Two step down over possible zoning reform conflict

Two members of a subcommittee meant to bring zoning amendment recommendations to the Oak Bluffs planning board left. 

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Two individuals left a zoning reform subcommittee in protest of the membership of Peter Goodale. —MV Times

Two individuals have stepped down from an Oak Bluffs group reviewing possible zoning reforms, in protest of the participation of another member. 

Susan Desmarais and Pat Ingalls left a zoning reform subcommittee created by the Oak Bluffs planning board because of the membership of Peter Goodale, president of the Goodale Construction Co. Both pointed to a possible issue with a town bylaw and potential financial interest on Goodale’s part. 

Desmarais and Ingalls said they did not want to attach their names to what they viewed as an unethical process, although both of them plan to be active participants at planning board meetings. Ingalls also sent a letter to the board urging Goodale’s removal from the subcommittee.

The Oak Bluffs general bylaws state that members of a town committee, commission, or board need to be residents of the town. While Goodale’s company is located in Oak Bluffs, he is not a resident.

Also, Desmarais and Ingalls both felt Oak Bluffs planning board chair Ewell Hopkins did not properly address the matter. “He has basically negated that, not giving any legality to that,” Ingalls said.

Hopkins told The Times this bylaw was not applicable to the situation because the aforementioned group did not fall into the categories of a committee, commission, or board. Hopkins described the group as a “gathering of citizens” — including attorneys, subject matter experts, and engineers — meant to help the planning board in formulating the amended zoning bylaw language through research and discussion, which would be presented to Oak Bluffs voters during the next annual town meeting. “We’re doing the work, we asked for help,” Hopkins said. 

Additionally, Hopkins says, the subcommittee did not have an official name nor authority to act upon any decisions. He said the individuals were gathered after the town solicited input from members of the public.

“It’s unfortunate that some people do not want to work with us, but we are not going to exclude anyone at this stage of the process,” Hopkins said, adding that the town has brought in a “broad spectrum of voices” before. 

The Oak Bluffs town website does have a zoning reform subcommittee page. Mark Crossland is the co-chair, and a member of the planning board, but he declined to comment. 

“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical,” Desmarais told The Times, who equated Goodale’s membership to a builder being a part of an advisory committee reviewing a construction project they are building. 

Desmarais and Ingalls both expressed concern over possible financial interests Goodale could have with zoning bylaw changes, because he operates a construction company. 

Desmarais also alleged Goodale wants Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to be categorized as an industrial zone, which she said would not make sense. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the YMCA are both located on this stretch. 

“This doesn’t pass the sniff test,” Desmarais said. 

Hopkins pushed back on the notion that the process was unethical, saying “nothing nefarious” was taking place, and no business’ “agenda” was being moved forward. Hopkins reiterated that the group does not have decisionmaking powers, therefore, he said, there is no conflict. He also pointed out that whatever is recommended to the board could end up bringing a financial loss for a business. 

Hopkins said the public will get a look at what is recommended to the planning board in September. The language will also need to be vetted by town counsel and approved by the Oak Bluffs Select Board. The “ultimate decision” will come down to whether a two-thirds vote is given by voters during the annual town meeting to accept any changes.

“This summer we are doing the foundational work,” Hopkins said, which includes researching zoning language from other towns, identifying possible deficiencies in Oak Bluffs zoning bylaws, and “formulating opinions.” 

“It’s a lot of thankless, needed work,” Hopkins said.

He also hoped for as diverse a group of people as possible for the “process of creation” and “due diligence.” 

“Nothing is more controversial than zoning,” Hopkins said. 

When asked about what issues are being considered, Hopkins said the 16-member group was looking over and discussing 14 “topics of work,” such as housing, vehicular access, and lot redefinitions, among others. He also said individuals in the group were only reviewing a few topics each. Hopkins declined to delve too deeply into the topics, since the discussions were conceptual at this point. 

“I cannot think of a voice that would not be relevant to hear from as we are considering changes to the town bylaws,” Hopkins said. “There is not a voice I do not want to hear from.”

Desmarais said while she thinks Goodale should have a voice in town zoning bylaw amendments, he should not be a part of a recommending body of the board.

With two individuals gone from the group, Ingalls said she hopes other people may be able to join in the process, such as a select board member or representatives from organizations like the YMCA or the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. 

“I’ve lived in the town for 43 years now, and there are massive changes going on,” Ingalls said. 

Goodale was not immediately available to comment.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Really?? In a body tasked with making recommendations of any kind, you should WANT oppositional points of view! That’s how you get to the best recommendations. In a world where way too much happens out of sight, why would you argue against such participation? If everyone comes from the same perspective, we’re nearly guaranteed significant unintended consequences. This is a non-voting group to do the legwork necessary to advise the Planning board – which itself can’t define zoning changes as anything other than recommendations to Town Meeting. Omitting key voices at this stage all but ensures excessive discussion at Town Meeting and risks a good result. Come on, Susan and Pat – please reconsider; your voices as part of this critical discussion are just as important as the one you are suggesting should step back. It’s often difficult to listen to the opposing viewpoint, but it’s a vital requirement for the best possible result.

  2. Ingalls shows her own bias by recommending a rep from the MV Land Bank. Like the Land Bank doesn’t have any biases of their own!

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