Camp association drops lawsuits following backlash

Homeowners of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association say Tabernacle lawsuits were not consistent with their views. 

The MVCMA dropped its lawsuits against Oak Bluffs. — MV Times

After mounting pressure from Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA) leaseholders following the filing of multiple lawsuits against the town of Oak Bluffs planning board and zoning board of appeals regarding imposed restrictions on the planned restoration of the Tabernacle, MVCMA board president Andrew Patch has switched gears and announced the withdrawal of the pending litigation. 

In a statement sent to The Times Wednesday afternoon, Patch wrote, “As a gesture of good faith on the part of the MVCMA and to facilitate those discussions, the MVCMA has now withdrawn the pending appeals of the decisions of the planning board and the zoning board of appeals, which had granted the applications of the MVCMA subject to certain conditions.”

The statement comes after Campground leaseholders expressed discontent with MVCMA leadership and homeowners’ lack of adequate representation in the proposed project and subsequent lawsuits. 

“The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA) has been a part of the town of Oak Bluffs since the town was established,” Patch’s statement read. “A key priority of the MVCMA is the completion of the Tabernacle Restoration fifth and final stage of a project that started over 20 years ago and has been supported by all six island towns through Community Preservation Act funding. The MVCMA intends to continue to work with the town to clarify and meet the conditions of the various approvals received so far for the Tabernacle project. As a longtime partner with Oak Bluffs, the MVCMA has and will continue to work with the town to address the issues, particularly with regards to wastewater, and look forward to a collaborative and timely resolution.”

On Saturday morning the Campground Leaseholders Coalition (CLC) leaseholders staged a demonstration outside the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, where a board meeting was being held. Leaseholders expressed their dissatisfaction with Patch, in addition to the “growing concern over the financing of the ill-advised scope of the Tabernacle renovation project.” 

In a letter to The Times, the leaseholders asserted that the lawsuits, filed by legal representatives of the MVCMA board, were not representative of homeowners’ views, triggering a call for a change of leadership and of the association’s bylaws to allow for a more democratic structure.

The letter cited the “failure of the board to listen to and represent the owners of the 300-plus cottages of the MVCMA,” and for the removal of Patch from his position. 

“The leadership of the CLC should be contacted for more details and an accurate rebuttal of the party line that will come from the board of the MVCMA,” the letter to The Times states. “There are two sides to every story, and the CLC is trying to make sure the side of the [leaseholders is] being heard.”

The restoration project seeks a 1,300-square-foot addition behind the Tabernacle stage for various improvements, including 10 gender-neutral bathrooms and improved accessibility for people with disabilities. This was originally approved by the Oak Bluffs planning board on June 8 in a 3-0 vote. 

The approval was contingent upon certain conditions being met, such as requiring “a statement of feasibility, sign-off, or letter of intent from the wastewater department with forecasted flow,” in addition to — at the expense of MVCMA — a third-party assessment to specify any alternative environmental techniques. 

The MVCMA later deemed the conditions placed on the approval of the project “unreasonable,” beyond its control, and “vague and indefinite.” 

The filed suit claimed the conditions imposed on the project could “have the effect of rendering the approval a denial.” 

Additionally, in its complaint, the MVCMA claimed that the zoning board had unlawfully overstepped its authority, citing the Massachusetts Zoning Act that “exempts religious uses from certain zoning restrictions,” and that the approval failed to recognize that the project’s work would fall within the flood overlay district. 

Harry Romsey, who has been a resident of the Campground and leaseholder for over 50 years, told The Times that “as leaseholders, we have very little say in what’s happening … That’s becoming a problem.” 

Romsey said the lack of transparency is pervasive, as leaseholders may be free to voice opinions at meetings, but they often fall on deaf ears. “It seems like we don’t get information until it’s already happened,” he said. “Things take place, and all of a sudden we’re notified.” 

Additional concerns, which have been echoed by his fellow leaseholders, are not only the effect the project will have on homeowners financially, but the consequences of being lumped into an association filing numerous lawsuits against the town. 

Romsey said that the filed lawsuits on behalf of the entirety of MVCMA were “an unfortunate result [of] the heavy push to redo the Tabernacle.” 

As the proposed renovation of the building’s roof has indeed received overwhelming support from Campground residents, the proposed additions remain cause for concern, as leaseholders will be greatly impacted, but did not hold stake in the initial decisionmaking process.

“There’s something changing,” Romsey said of the general attitude of the MVCMA board, “that needs to be addressed.”

Like many of his cohorts, MVCMA leaseholder Fred Rick Huss expressed opposition to the addition of the Tabernacle, and in a letter to the planning board, asked simply, “How can the planning board let this happen?” 

Huss advocated for “[letting] the MVCMA board be content to replace the roof, which has the full support of the community,” and noted that prior to the lawsuits, the decision to move forward with the massive project was not one that aligned with many leaseholders’ ideals. 

Huss’ residence, which has been in his family for over a century and is situated close to the Tabernacle, runs the risk of being deeply impacted by the proposed addition, as it could involve tree removals, in addition to greatly increasing noise in the area. 

“How can a group of cottage owners, many of whom just bought their cottages in the last decade, come in and change the historic Tabernacle with their idea of the past three years to add a huge addition?” Huss’ letter stated. 

Patch initially said he would speak to The Times on Wednesday afternoon, but issued the statement instead. He could not immediately be reached for further comment.


  1. I respect Fred Huss, and value his perspective. He’s what’s good about the Campground. From the heart, not a law book.

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