Island at a tipping point or has it tipped over? 


To the Editor:

As all of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard approach Annual Town Meetings, it is imperative that the environmental health of our beloved Island be a shared priority. 

The towns on Martha’s Vineyard have invested a great deal of time and effort to develop thoughtful master plans. This dedication by so many is commendable. The detailed recommendations and strategies threading through these plans include: preserving our natural resources, enhancing the collective character and appearance of our residential neighborhoods, protecting our unique but fragile ecosystem, addressing public health and safety issues, enhancing an island-wide communication technology system, and much more. An incisive quote from the writer Margaret Wheatley accents the work at hand is: “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” 

As a citizen and registered voter here on the Island, I am writing to clearly let you know what I care about. It is a call to action. Once long-established residential neighborhoods become inundated with colliding commercial business interests, there is no turning back. You will have made a Faustian deal that forever negatively impacts residential zone integrity, personal property values, environmental protections, fresh water supplies, wastewater management, “Green Community” aspirations, and much more. 

There is an urgent need, for example, to reconcile rapidly expanding commercial needs and interests of Martha’s Vineyard with the core value of preserving and protecting its residential neighborhoods. The Island-wide leadership cannot simply throw up its hands, as if overwhelmed, and quit on its residents, by allowing more encroachment of commercial entities into residential zones, seemingly lacking the political will to enforce existing bylaws and ordinances. This will come at the enormous compounded expense of an already ecologically fragile Island. 

My mother taught me to “clean in front of your own doorstep first, and the whole neighborhood will be clean.” A slow drive around the down Island residential neighborhoods today, while the trees are still leafless, reveals commercial vehicle density, ominous looking sheds, appalling blight, and contaminating conditions at nearly every turn. There appear to be little to no zoning bylaws enforcement at this time. If town building inspectors and board of health agents are inundated, then provide adequate resources for consistent and proper enforcement. 

There is an over-saturation of commercial vehicles and equipment on Martha’s Vineyard. The ratio and number of light and heavy commercial vehicle circulation has risen to an alarming all-time high. I learned recently that there are now over 1,300 property management and related businesses on the Island in 2024. Meanwhile, there are no full-time veterinarians. And, the longstanding affordable housing crisis moves along barely dented, let alone solved. This is astonishing and telling. Is this what we value? 

Working together, town leaders must develop a short and long term plan that allows for commercial businesses to thrive outside of residential zones, including more designated space for commercial vehicle parking, equipment and material storage. We must preserve the beauty and vitality of our nationally and internationally admired Island. Residential areas should not be put in the position of accommodating and sacrificing lovely, peaceful, high-value neighborhoods for out-of-compliance businesses and blighted properties. 

Using commercial businesses to renovate and maintain our Island hospital, schools, community services, and YMCA are no-brainers. Those improvements are not at issue. There must be a more reasonable balance or ratio between renovating and building new homes, which is good for business, and building more much-needed affordable housing for young families, employer staff, and senior citizens. 

It is critical that we review where the Island was 20 years ago and where it is today. The most recent master plans are a good place to start. Further, we must partner together as Island municipalities on issues that have “high stakes” regional impact such as adequate fresh water supplies, wastewater management, land use, affordable housing, commercial vehicle circulation, air and noise pollution, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, blight and unsafe property management, mining expansion, and so on. We should also partner with exemplar resilient communities statewide that have conquered or are creatively and effectively addressing similar issues. 

My strong recommendation is that we move forward together with accurate and real time empirical data to guide the work. These data have been difficult to gather. Think long game this year about some of the proposed warrant articles dealing with zoning bylaw changes and so-called “industrial overlay” zones that are requesting your vote. Although we may be playing catch up, if leadership does not pause and take stock collaboratively regarding the road we are on, our residential neighborhoods will no longer be a pride point for our Island, our guests, and our precious grandchildren. 

In closing, I volunteer to serve on and lead an Island-wide Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC). If you share my values and concerns, or if you don’t, let your voice be heard. We are at a tipping point on Martha’s Vineyard. I pray we have not run past it. 

Kriner Cash
Oak Bluffs