Questions to consider before town meeting


Do you value living in a neighborhood where you enjoy the peace of mind that your home, your backyard, and your neighborhood will be free of noise, lights, dust, heavy trucks, and fumes?

When you bought your home, did you have an expectation that the property next door would always be another home, a farm or something you could live with, just like the zoning rules have specified for decades?

If you answered yes to both questions, be prepared for changes in the future if the Oak Bluffs planning board’s proposed zoning bylaw amendments to establish a new light industrial/mixed use overlay district (LIMOD) passes at Town Meeting on April 9..

I am a seasonal resident, having first set foot on the Vineyard in 1957 and visiting most years since then. I am also a professional planner who works for small towns like Oak Bluffs on planning and zoning projects. I studied the great planning going on in the Vineyard when I attended graduate school in the 1970’s and the Island was a model for how to balance conservation and development.

Residents can ensure Oak Bluffs remains a mostly residential community by voting to reject the proposed LIMOD District. Oak Bluffs’ master plan has a lot to say about how important it is for established residential areas to be protected. If zoning changes are to be made, the plan recommends first studying how to find an appropriate balance of institutional and non-retail businesses in the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven corridor.

The proposed LIMOD will allow Goodale’s enormous sand and gravel mine to be designated a permitted use; it is currently considered a pre-existing non-conforming use that must cease when the non-renewable resources are depleted or if Goodale goes out of business and mining is not restarted within two years. Since Goodale cannot expand its existing mine under the current zoning, it wants town residents to allow the mine to expand where it is and onto a 55 acre parcel it owns nearby. Both parcels are within the proposed LIMOD. The Planning Board will be authorized to approve this by a special use permit under the new zoning. Goodale’s mining will grow larger and other changes will be in store.

What can Oak Bluffs’ residents expect, maybe not immediately but over the years as plans emerge one by one for industrialization of the corridor? First, mining is a “heavy industrial” use not a “light” industry, as described in the proposed LIMOD rules. The U.S. Bureau of Mines, U.S. Department of Labor, and the American Planning Association all characterize mining as a “heavy” industry. Heavy industry is what you find in the rust belt, on the outskirts of cities, hidden from view, or along interstates. You almost never find new heavy industries popping up within residential neighborhoods for good reasons. The planning board should have done its homework, by having answers to a few basic questions. If you can’t find the Planning Board’s answers to basic questions like the following, then think about the following before voting:

  1. Will an increase in industrial activities close to hundreds of established homes affect your home and neighborhood? Mining creates unavoidable adverse environmental impacts in areas such as noise, lighting, dust, and air pollutants like diesel exhaust. Mining and similar uses belong as far away from your home as you can get. Big trucks present big dangers to pedestrians and bicyclists and can’t easily be mitigated. Once they are allowed by zoning, you can’t walk it back. New land uses like mining can be expected to be around for 100 years or more.
  2. What are the potential economic effects on tourism and second-homes, particularly the cumulative impacts of expanded mining and a greater industrialization of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven corridor? Tourists and weekenders come to the Vineyard to get away from things like industry.
  3. What happens when a non-renewable resource like prime farmland soils are removed and farming opportunities are eliminated, essentially forever? The Island Grown Initiative was established a matter of feet away from Goodales for the soils. Agriculture is semi-industrial but which use is more desirable on the Island or in your backyard, permanent resource removal like mining or local farming?
  4. What are the costs of road construction, improvement, and repair needed to accommodate increases in heavy trucking and who pays for it? 
  5. Will the added costs of emergency services due to increased traffic, construction, production activities and accidents, spills, and other emergencies be paid for by the additional property taxes collected? 
  6. What will be the added costs for public/private water supply systems if treatment is required due to groundwater contamination by mining? The proposed special use permit rules in Section 8.6.3 allow LIMOD to supersede Water Resource Area Overlay District rules. 
  7. Do you think the planning board will protect you from living with more noise, lighting, truck traffic, and other adverse impacts of mining through the proposed rules for a special use permit? Section 8.6.7 states the Planning Board is to “consider” limiting dust, odors, noise and lighting when issuing approvals, but how do you limit an impact that is integral to mining?
  8. Will the types of desirable development envisioned by the Master Plan, like established residential areas, be inhibited from expanding due to mining, preventing realization of the Plan’s vision? What happens when residential areas are no longer desirable due to mining’s impacts and your homes go down in value? 

If studies of the above exist, why weren’t they made public before the planning board proposed the LIMOD scheme? In New York, if a town failed to do those basic studies before enacting a big change to a residential zoning district established decades ago, it would not be allowed to happen under state law. Ask yourself, will you be better off with more heavy industry in Oak Bluffs? If your answer is no, then don’t forget to vote no on April 9.

Ted Fink, from Rhinebeck, New York, is a certified planner who’s worked for more than 60 towns, cities and villages in the Hudson Valley area.


  1. Thank you Ted for explaining what the Planning Board chair won’t tell us. I agree, VOTE NO!

  2. Thank you for your expertise and thoughtful letter. I hope Oak Bluffs voters will read your letter and make the decision to Vote NO on these LIMODs. I am especially concerned about the LIMOD proposed for the Holmes Hole Road area which will allow “light industrial” activity in our very vulnerable watershed. The Holmes Hole Road LIMOD is just a few hundred yards from the highly important Manter Well, which is located on Holmes Hole Road itself.

  3. The lack of transparency of process and disregard for the rule of law that has been demonstrated by the OB Planning Board over the past few years should be sufficient to cast doubt in the mind of any voter with regard to the substance of it’s work product. Every voter should be completely familiar with the details by now – it doesn’t matter which side of an issue you were aligned with, it’s a question of process integrity. The ends do not justify the means. This board has lost my confidence, and until actions are taken to restore it I cannot support any measure that it may propose – especially on issues with the permanence and potential impact of zoning. I simply don’t trust them.

  4. Overnight on Saturday. Someone who disagrees with those of us who are voting NO to rezoning stole all but three of the signs we placed on Friday. We spent over $340. of our own money on those.

    To whoever did’re a thief! In over 4 decades of political activism I’ve never seen this disrespectful, despicable behavior! Shame on you !

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