To four out of five selectmen in Oak Bluffs, the Martha's Vineyard Commission is simply an "impediment," at least according to the document they signed in July.
But this Thursday at noon, state legislators will hold a public hearing in the fire station to find out what the rest of the town thinks about the commission.
Such hearings typically take place in Boston, but members of the Joint Committee on Natural Resources wanted an up-close perspective on the town's petition to withdraw from the MVC.
"There's a whole spectrum of opinion on this," said state Rep. Eric T. Turkington, who is vice chairman of the committee. "That's why we asked for a hearing on the Vineyard. The normal course would be a hearing in Boston in July, but I didn't think that was fair to the Islanders."
Plus, Mr. Turkington said, this is a controversial issue. State Sen. Robert O'Leary, who is also a member of the committee, will attend the hearing, as will about a half-dozen other committee members.
The fire station is located at the intersection of Wing and County Roads.
The hearing is only the second step in a process set in motion last March when voters at a special town meeting took the first step toward withdrawing from the commission.
In March, backers of the proposed Down Island Golf Club pushed for the town to leave the MVC. The lobbying for withdrawal came in reaction to the commission's decision last February to reject the private luxury golf course development for the second time.
The golf club developers had threatened to build a gargantuan Chapter 40B housing project in the southern woodlands if the golf course project was not approved. It was a convincing threat.
Voters were frightened of the prospect of 366 new houses, a development that many town officials believed would bankrupt the town by overburdening public services and the town school.
But less than two months later, the political landscape changed drastically when the MVC won a state land court decision that affirmed the regional agency's full power of review over 40B housing projects. Since that ruling by the Massachusetts Land Court, some officials and residents have questioned why the town would then want to leave the protection of the commission.
As Mr. Turkington put it shortly after the judge's ruling, "The recent court decision appears to leave the commission as the only thing standing between Oak Bluffs and 366 houses on that land."
Selectman Roger Wey, the board's lone supporter of the MVC and only opponent of the golf proposal, said he is eager to hear what people think about the commission at this stage.
"I want to hear if the public outcry is still there. Before, it was 40B and houses. Now 40B has taken a backseat," said Mr. Wey, who is also a member of the MVC. "This is an opportunity for townspeople to speak their opinion on this issue."
The legislative hearing comes just a week after the commission began new hearings to review yet another attempt - the third - by developers to win approval for the Down Island Golf Club.
And while selectmen spent much of last winter and early spring lambasting the MVC for its failure to listen to the leaders of Oak Bluffs, there appears to be a conciliatory tone as this new round of hearings get under way.
"At this point, there's a public process under way," said selectmen chairman Todd Rebello.
But if the MVC can't cut a deal with the golf developers, Mr. Rebello added, "then the voters will decide for themselves what the role of the Martha's Vineyard Commission will be in the future of Oak Bluffs."
The fire station is an odd setting for such a discussion. Emptied of its fire trucks and ambulances, the garage holds just over 200 people, according to fire chief Dennis Alley.
It's not exactly clear how the legislative hearing ended up there, but Mr. Wey is unhappy with the choice of place and time.
"If they had it at night, it could be at the school. It would be a more appropriate forum," he said. "I'm disappointed that it's noon time at the fire station. If it were at night, more of the working class could attend."
With parking and space constraints at the fire station, Mr. Wey added, "people are going to get discouraged and won't attend."
For the first time since March, the public will have the chance to voice an opinion about the town's role in the commission. Mr. Turkington said the committee will hear from anyone, not just town residents.
Representatives from a number of civic groups who support the commission are also planning to attend, including the Oak Bluffs Taxpayers Association, the Friends of Sengekontacket and the Lagoon Pond Association.
William Peterson, president of the Lagoon Pond Association, said not all its members agree on whether a golf course would pollute water in the pond, but he said, "The commission is absolutely essential as far as the Lagoon Pond Association is concerned."