Meeting House developers appeal MVC denial

Appeal calls the commission’s decision on housing project 'arbitrary and capricious.'

A rendering of the affordable housing component. The developers have appealed the MVC's denial of their project. — Courtesy MVC

The developers of the Meeting House Place subdivision have appealed the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s denial of the expansive 54-acre project in Edgartown — one of the largest the commission has reviewed.

In the 30-page appeal filed in Dukes County Superior Court Wednesday, the developers’ attorney, Edward Dangel, called the commission’s decision “arbitrary, whimsical, and capricious,” and claimed the commission overstepped its authority, created standards to fit individual commissioner’s agendas, and in some instances did not listen to its own staff.

“The commission’s ruling exceeded its statutory authority, was arbitrary and capricious, and was based on subjective opinions devised for the occasion, not on uniformly applicable regulations,” the complaint reads. “Further, the decision was unmoored from the facts, scientific evidence, and in several instances from the reports of its own staff.”

In a landmark decision in July, the commission denied the project 10-4. The project went through several public hearings. Throughout the DRI process, the project received heavy criticism from environmentalists, abutters, farmers, and other stakeholders about the size of the project and the potential impact on nitrogen loading and traffic. It also received some support from individuals noting the need for more housing, particularly for empty nesters and workers, and citing job creation.

The project was first referred to the commission in February 2019 as a development of regional impact (DRI), but has undergone several redesigns. It proposed to develop a 54-acre parcel of land off Meetinghouse Way, calling for 30 acres as open space, and to develop the other 20-odd acres with 28 single-family homes, restricted to a maximum of 3,800 square feet, and a cluster of 14 below-market-rate townhouses.

The project came with a laundry list of offers, which included a flat $1.1 million contribution to affordable housing, a 1 percent fee paid to the Edgartown affordable housing committee on any future sale of the development’s homes, and a cluster of townhouses that were to be dedicated to first-time homebuyers and empty nesters. The townhouses would have been a mix of one and two-bedroom houses, and sold for under $400,000.

The property was purchased for $6.6 million in June 2017 by developers Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews, operating as Meeting House Way LLC. Their listed address is in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

The appeal outlines the developers’ attempt to change the project and meet commissioner objections. The appeal claimed that the commission changed its views of the project “ad hoc to make it more and more difficult to obtain approval.” The appeal further argues the commission “wrongly asserted” that the project was of regional impact and retained jurisdiction.

In the final written decision on the project, the commission outlined its concerns about the environment, suburbanization, and Island character.
“The commission finds that although the project satisfied in some form many of the MVC guidelines, it did not provide sufficient benefits to outweigh the overwhelming detriment to the rural, natural character of the area, and the Vineyard as a whole,” the commission’s decision reads.

The decision goes on to add that the commission had concerns about the project’s “character” from the beginning.

“In the end, however, the project remained out of character. The houses remained out of scale, and environmental and energy issues were never fully solved,” the decision reads.

Reached by phone Friday, MVC executive director Adam Turner said he had just received the appeal, and had no comment at this time. The commission is statutorily required to respond to the appeal within 20 business days, but can receive extensions.