Planning board tables MVRHS special permit decision

Board members who weighed in don’t see value in expanded scope of review. 

The Oak Bluffs planning board tabled their decision on whether or not to require a special permit for the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School athletic field project.

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.


  1. There is a very important reason that the Watershed Protection By Law was established. We would hope that the Oak Bluffs Planning board will abide by the law and not evade their duty to protect the Island Aquifer and the residents of Oak Bluffs and Martha’s Vineyard. This also applies to the the School Committee and the Superintendent of Schools. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and close attention to this matter. ❤️ ❤️

    • Thank you Pam. And thank you to the elected officials who have dissented and expressed WHY they question this controversial product. The MVC dissenters are clear , the risk outweighs the gain. Our public school should reflect best practices. And foward thinking innovation . As our planet chokes on plastic waste , deals with PFAS water contamination and many athletes and major teams reject plastic turf, we must consider why we are moving foward with this project.
      This is not a power trip. This is government checking the “power” of private money, environmental preservation and the intellectual commitment of our future actions on projects to be aligned with the most forward thinking solutions for all citizens .

  2. Didn’t everything that could be asked in this law already been answered. This is just yet another power grab by the chairman

  3. I believe all the questions that would come from this “watershed law” were
    Answered in the MVC testing. Why waste taxpayers money. This is yet another power move to stall the field by the chair of this board. He needs to be stopped from wasting money that has already been spent on the same tests. Enough is enough.

  4. Pardon me, but the MVC testing raised more questions than it answered.
    Seems to me, if you’re on the side pushing for this turf field, you’re labeled reasonable, but if want to continue the discussion, those who don’t want any doubts to be raised label you as power-hungry.

  5. Thank you Pam, thank you Beka, and thank you Steve. I feel like I am waking from a bad dream, one where I had lost my voice, squelched in the bread and circus of echoing voices drowning out the rational, and forward-thinking. With all the familiar refrains. More reliable playing surfaces. Better chances of our teams competing on comparable fake turf elsewhere, less maintenance, all minimizing its tie-in to the entire petrochemical industrial firehose streams of carbon under which not just this island, but the ocean itself is suffering, and upon which many are both knowingly, and unknowingly staking such short-sighted futures.

    I am writing this letter as both protest and as Shout-Out of Thanks to Ewell Hopkins. For his sense of responsibility to our future of ALL our kin; to science, our environment, indeed to the Island’s legacy in how together with the kinds of forward-thinking children it has raised with “carry-in/carry-out” ethics embodying do-least-harm-possible ideals. This legacy is about leaving the lightest of and footprints, has resulted in such venerable student groups as Plastic-Free MV. Of course plastic is ubiquitous! It’s in about every product we have that has makes life quasi-comfortable, from say, my ice-trays to the bumper around my iPhone. Still, the main point stares us so front and center, it’s in our face! We are surrounded by water. And as the ocean continues being threatened by carbon burning aka ocean warming/weather instability, acidification and plastic pollution, the VERY last thing on our minds should be a fight within ourselves (if in fact you still question the sanity of putting down layers of plastic over ground invariably transmitting “what you sow” to our aquifer source beneath them); or fighting with our neighbors over such a fundamentally obvious question! There’s that.

    And then there’s the much more nuanced, legal, ethical view that OB’s brave and prescient Planning Board Chair has the internal fortitude to bring up, even after, in my view, the faint-hearted minority opinion MVC was recently (self-) squelched? And of which, sorry to say, the MVC leadership should feel not even the smallest bit of pride.

    And why might I ask (to the Times’ editors): for those who may only read online— is this article not hyper-linked to its sibling piece on the front page of the print version Thursday September 16th’s Times, titled “Special Permit question looms over MVRHS field project”?? I put forth that’s not all that looms over this project and the community! What looms over us are both your ancestors and mine, asking our future selves: “So while you were on Earth and all this came about, to put 2 + 2 together to see the chemicals and carbon causing the oceans, farms and waters wrong, giving folks cancer etc.,why on God’s Good Green Earth and in Her Blue Ocean Planet would you ever support as something as classically upside down back-asswards as putting plastic fields over the very reservoir of water you were blessed with giving you your water’s good health!— for which you were charged as stewards to protect?!”

  6. This story certainly is about as unbelievable as it gets on the Vineyard.
    We ban plastic straws, small single use plastic beverage containers and the deliberate release of balloons, and then we get a plastic football field. How the fence does that happen ???
    The planning board gets legal advice that they have to at least have a study to figure out if it will poison the aquifer, and they decline to follow the advice of their counsel.
    In my 35 years on the Vineyard, I have never seen such outright stupidity and in your face arrogance. I hope the NRDC gets involved and sues the pants off of them — personally.

    I would ask that it be voted on except for the Tisbury school fiasco.
    And thank you Mr. MacLean for your clear and articulate comment.

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