The Oak Bluffs planning board tabled a vote on whether the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School will be required to apply for a special permit for the school’s athletic field project.
At the outset of Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, board member Mark Crossland recused himself from the project. Crossland did not specify his reason, and could not immediately be reached.
At the board’s last meeting, board chair Ewell Hopkins said he is waiting on updated guidance from town counsel Michael Goldsmith regarding the applicability of a watershed protection bylaw that, if triggered, would require the school to apply for a special permit.
School officials have maintained that they are not required to apply for a special permit for this project review, while Hopkins says that the bylaw is applicable.
Now, Hopkins said, Goldsmith has returned with guidance indicating that the watershed protection bylaw is applicable and would require a special permit. All members of the board received the letter from Goldsmith prior to the meeting.
“The question at hand is whether there is an argument to be made that contradicts or goes in a different direction than what [Goldsmith] and I have outlined to the board so far,” Hopkins said.
Board member Bill Cleary said that after reading Goldsmith’s letter and reviewing all relevant materials, he believes that although the watershed protection bylaw appears to be applicable “through [Goldsmith’s] thought process,” it would not serve the town well to pursue the matter.
“It appears to me that our hands are tied, we really don’t have any relevant position of authority as a board,” Cleary said. “My thoughts are we shouldn’t pursue this under [the watershed bylaw], despite the attorney’s direction. I don’t think it’s as black and white as you think.”
Additionally, Cleary said, both the school and the board have spent enough money, time, and energy looking into this matter, and added that the chair of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Joan Malkin, called their project review one of the most vetted applications in commission history.
Board member JoJo Lambert said she also has read through the materials extensively, and she agrees with Cleary in that she isn’t sure what value the board could add to the process by pursuing the expanded scope of review under the watershed protection bylaw. “I am not so sure about the special permit,” Lambert said.
In response to both board members’ comments, Hopkins said the board doesn’t have the option to accept or ignore applicable laws based on whether or not they think the process has value or will result in a valuable outcome.
“What the impact of the law is is for another time and another conversation,” Hopkins said. “I ask you all to make the tough decision, which is what [Goldsmith] has outlined in terms of restrictions and what I have outlined in terms of applicability, and get your guidance on not what we think the outcome is, because we haven’t started to deliberate, but to discuss whether or not the law is applicable. If it is applicable, I believe it is our obligation to apply it.”
According to Hopkins, Goldsmith said in his guidance that any conditions the board sets on the project must be reasonable, and the board cannot reject the application solely based on the special permit.
“I don’t know if we want to call a vote on the applicability of a law which would possibly put us in conflict with the legal guidance we have received, or if you feel comfortable with the sentiment you shared publicly and with the board. I am concerned about what the legal implications are of getting guidance and then not following the guidance,” Hopkins said. He said he would ask Goldsmith to attend the next meeting to answer board questions regarding legal implications of not following the guidance. That meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23.