A letter sent from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to the Island’s select boards and finance committees relays an intention, in the near future, to pursue increasing the commission’s budget. This comes after the MVC has been inundated with a high number of lawsuits from project applicants filing appeals to the commission’s final decisions.
The letter sent on Oct. 12 states, “While we have faced appeals of our decisions over the years, the volume of appeals these last few years has increased considerably” — ultimately prompting MVC director Adam Turner to seek more money for the commission’s legal expense budget line.
According to Turner, the commission “will have spent in excess of $400,000” defending its decision to deny the proposed Meeting House Way development; that case, which included a weeklong trial in June, has yet to be settled.
Although the commission “does not anticipate having to mount the kind of defense in any of these cases” that it did for the Meeting House Way case, the letter cites that increased legal challenges “present budget issues.”
Among the complaints that are still pending is an appeal of the commission’s denial of a request to demolish a historic house. After the commission turned down the proposal, and instead recommended alternatives to demolition, owners of 1133 Main St. in Tisbury Brian and Susannah Bristol, represented by their attorney Kevin P. O’Flaherty, filed a lawsuit against the commission in Dukes County Superior Court on Oct. 4, arguing that demolition was the only financially feasible option for making the property habitable.
The commission’s decision to deny the demolition of the four-story, seven-bedroom, 8,500-square-foot dwelling — believed to have been built around 1890 — and replace it with a 7,178-square-foot, three-story structure was ultimately made in a 7-3 vote with one abstention, and relied heavily on the recommendation of the town’s historical commission to preserve the existing house.
On June 9, the commission approved, with conditions, a proposal from Island Elderly Housing (IEH) to construct Aidylberg III — five age-restricted affordable housing units in Oak Bluffs. Located at 38 Wing Road, the project is the third of its kind, with construction of Aidylberg I and II having been completed in 2006.
The approval, made in a 7-5 vote with two abstentions, was contingent upon IEH making massive alterations to the construction plans, essentially requiring a complete redesign of the project. In August, IEH filed a lawsuit against the commission, arguing that the conditional approval of Aidylberg III is antithetical to both the estimated construction timeframe and the finances appropriated for the project.
Through his attorney, Thomas D. Orr, Adam Cummings, owner of the Oak Bluffs Lampost building, filed a complaint against the commission for “directly and proximately caus[ing] the plaintiff to sustain damages” from the May 5 denial of Cummings’ modification request to lift restrictions on short-term rentals and reduce workforce housing. The decision was made in a 15-0 vote, with one abstention. The commission later responded to the complaint, denying all liability.
In July, the commission settled out of court with Harbor View Hotel after the commission was sued for the conditions placed on a proposed modification project.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s approved budget for fiscal year 2023 is $1,365,389 (a $106,436 increase from FY22). All six Island towns, which comprise the majority of the commission’s funding, are expected to increase their shares to the regional permitting and planning agency, which will be determined by voters at town meetings.
Per Turner’s letter to all six towns, the proposed increase in the commission’s legal expense budget line has yet to be detailed, as the commission anticipates “having a better idea as to the magnitude of any increase within the next month or so.”