Amidst a desire for change, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission held a long discussion Thursday night on how to streamline their decisionmaking process for developments of regional impact (DRI), when determining the benefits and detriments.
Commissioner Jim Vercruysse said he and a group of other commissioners studied the benefits and detriments process, and thought it would be helpful to streamline the process by determining which factors are more important than others at the commission’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC).
The LUPC is a subcommittee that gives applicants an opportunity to explain their proposal and get feedback from some commissioners and staff before a full public hearing.
“We’ve all expressed frustration over the years of how we go through the process of benefits and detriments, how some are relevant and some are more relevant on different projects,” Vercruysse said.
The proposal consists of three parts. First, commissioners would consider the same things in Chapter 831, the commission’s enabling legislation, and the benefits and detriments list, with staff notes for guidance, but staff would recommend ahead of time which factors might be primary and which might be secondary.
Second, at post-hearing LUPC, commissioners would consider primary and secondary factors for benefits and detriments.
Third, prior to deliberation, staff would distribute two versions of benefits and detriments, based on LUPC recommendations. The full commission would take a single vote at deliberation on whether to adopt the secondary factors. Discussion would be free to focus on primary factors of a project.
Commissioners Linda Sibley and Ted Rosbeck said they took issue with some parts of the proposed streamlining.
Sibley criticized the commission for becoming too dependent on staff recommendations. “These are things we are supposed to consider. We’ve been elected to consider them. We’ve been charged by Chapter 831 to consider them, and nowhere in Chapter 831 does it suggest the staff be guiding those decisions,” Sibley said.
“I’m worried about staff making recommendations, because it may put an unnecessary pressure on some of us commissioners who might want to talk about that thing … I don’t want to silence commissioners,” Rosbeck said.
Other commissioners disagreed with that reading of the proposal. “We need to rely on staff to provide the information,” commissioner Douglas Sederholm said. “I think staff should refrain from making recommendations in regard to what is a benefit and what is a detriment.”
He said the proposal is clear on how the primary and secondary factors are determined by commissioners first.
Commissioner Ben Robinson agreed, saying staff is impartial and good at providing the facts of the project. “I don’t think this is a problem with how the staff is presenting information. I think it’s the list that we’re working off of that prescribes certain things,” Robinson said.
Sederholm said the high school athletic fields DRI was an example of a unique project that the commission reviewed. “Having each commissioner say what they thought the benefits and detriments were was a long process, but it was the best way to do that particular one. We got where we wanted to go,” Sederholm said. “We ended up focusing on four or five or six really important issues, and we didn’t deal with the BS, although it was all on the record.”
Commissioner Christina Brown said commissioners should read over the proposal and think of changes they would like to see, and submit them to Vercruysse and the group that worked on the proposal.
In other business, the commission approved the demolition and replacement project at 19 Mill Square Road in Oak Bluffs.
The property owner seeks to demolish an existing historic home and build a larger, four-bedroom, 3.5-story residence in a similar style. The home is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS). It was built around 1898 as a seasonal dwelling. It’s considered significant as part of the Vineyard Highlands, an alternative to the Wesleyan Grove Campground. The house was also the former home of a “learning institute.”
Since the commission closed the public hearing, the owners made several changes to the roof and window designs to better match the original building design.
“I don’t like seeing old things destroyed, but if you can replace it in a way that’s in keeping with the aesthetic and architectural integrity of that area, that is related to the historic value that we’re trying to preserve, I think that’s OK,” commissioner Christine Todd said.
Commissioner Fred Hancock said he was happy with how the commission reopened the record to allow the applicants to submit design changes after listening to commissioner concerns.
“One simplified way I’d put it is, when you’re driving through the neighborhood, you don’t want to look up and say, ‘Where the heck did that come from?’” Sibley said, agreeing with Todd.
Following their approval of the demolition, Sibley suggested the commission work on creating a set list of topics to discuss concerning historic demolitions in the future.