To the Editor:
I’m writing with concerns about the upcoming Oak Bluffs planning board public hearings for potentially significant zoning reforms being proposed by the board. These zoning reform initiatives, which include a proposal to allow industrial uses where none are currently allowed, if passed by a two-thirds vote in April 2024 will have a lasting effect on our town and Island community. Therefore, the public needs to be made better aware of them. Other than the planning board website, there has been very little public notification about these hearings. To date, in either paper, there has been no notice, ad, social media mention, or comment in the O.B. column pertaining to these vitally important hearings. Can Oak Bluffs have a public hearing without properly notifying the public by every means possible about changes that would allow new industrial uses in our residential neighborhoods?
Over the course of the past few months — during numerous planning board meetings — it has been stated that there would be many opportunities for public input on these zoning reform issues. Having one meeting per reform article does not fulfill that objective. The town and Island community at large have a right to research, analyze, discuss, consider, and act upon these vitally important issues before they are set forth in April. This needs to be done in a just and proper manner. The Island community needs to be an integral part of this decisionmaking process. This proposal could drastically affect our health, safety, welfare, environment, and overall quality of life for generations to come. Updating our zoning bylaws needs to be done in an open, factual public forum without lobbying from a handful of landholders and businesses who stand to gain financially at the expense of hundreds of families in our community.
Oak Bluffs adopted a comprehensive master plan in 2019 that was based on a great premise: “Recommending strategies to help make Oak Bluffs an even better place in the future.” What is now proposed would allow new industrial uses to be established, some of which are not even specified, within the town’s residential zoning districts, through a new “overlay” zoning district where they would be permitted. But we don’t even know yet where these overlays would be established. How could this possibly make Oak Bluffs a better place in the future? The comprehensive plan is very clear that any future zoning for the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven corridor must include studies for: “Protecting established residential areas” when guiding land-use activities in the Southern Tier (see Town Plan, page 73, Policy B.1). So far, we’ve only seen this new proposal for industry in our residential neighborhoods. Where are the studies about protecting our residential areas? We need more protection for what we have and could lose if new industries appear in our backyards, not less.
The lack of overlay zoning maps is especially concerning — to date, the zoning overlay maps do not include the light industrial mixed use overlay district (LIMOD) proposed areas. Nothing posted on the planning board website contains those maps, which we were told would be available before the hearings begin, so that the public can have adequate time to evaluate these proposals. Consequently, the public does not know where these possible zoning changes will occur, and cannot make fundamental, informed decisions. How can anyone respond at a public hearing if they don’t know exactly where the overlay districts are proposed? Having vital information that people can comment on is a fundamental basis for a public hearing.
I urge you to make these meetings known to the public, and have the maps available so the residents of Oak Bluffs and the entire Island can make informed decisions about the dramatic changes now proposed for our precious Island. The process thus far has been flawed.