One of Six

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of December, 1982:

Edgartown has become a symbol in this past year, a clamorous political arena that drew the attention of all the Vineyard and carried lessons for the rest of the Island towns. It has been a town full of arguments and bureaucratic battle, of suit and countersuit, of soaring legal costs, of divided government and of inexorable pressure from developers, especially from the mainland. It was a year when town officials, voters and residents were forced to rise up against a battery of threats to their environment, their economy, their community. And with each new struggle officials and residents evaluated and assessed the tools, personnel and resources they need to protect their future. Often they came up short.

What follows is a catalogue of issues and problems Edgartown was forced to grapple with during this year.

Groundwater quality is endangered by contamination from nitrates and ammonia leaching out of septic systems and other waste sites, and by saltwater intrusion. The town voted at annual town meeting to appropriate $10,000 for a professional water quality study by Anderson-Nichols and Company. Early findings indicate serious problems in at least four areas of town.

In early December, the board of health, after months of consideration imposed a two-year moratorium on building in the sensitive Katama outwash plain. The ban prohibits installation of any septic systems or sewage disposal systems in the area for two years until further studies are conducted, new zoning and health regulations are drawn and other protective measures are developed.

Waters in the Edgartown harbor and Sengekontacket Pond showed high coliform counts during the summer, and indications of more dangerous bacteria threatening the waters and shellfish breeding there.

Time sharing of single family homes came to Edgartown on Hye Road, where a Florida-based real estate development corporation built six houses to sell in timed intervals to many owners. The town passed a new bylaw in November to prohibit time sharing in most residential districts.

The public sewer system and septage treatment facility handled peak levels of waste, and sewer commissioners warn that expansion is necessary. At annual town meeting, voters will be asked to appropriate $80,000 for an addition to the plant and to fund installation of sewer pipe extensions in town.

By a tight 80-vote margin in April, the town chose not to rejoin the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, rejecting membership in the regional land-use planning agency for the third time since it withdrew in 1978.

Rhode Island developer Louis J. Giuliano challenged the town growth bylaw, limiting the sale of lots in a subdivision to 10 annually, in federal court. And Boston-based U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. issued a strongly worded decision in February prohibiting the developer from selling more property during a year than the bylaw allows.

After 19 months of contentious negotiation with Mr. Giuliano, Patricia Lett and Vineyard agent Douglas Dowling, the planning board approved subdivision plans for 235 acres with 166 building lots off the West Tisbury Road.

Summer residents of three Katama homes filed suit against Seaside Dairy and town officials in May, asking $750,000 in damages for barnyard smells, hordes of green flies and the general appearance of the modern dairy.

South Shore Realty Trust, a Connecticut-based development corporation, appealed the planning board approval of the Dark Woods subdivision, a plan aimed at preserving 30 acres near the center of town. The trust, already in litigation against town boards over health regulations for septic systems, gave no reason for the legal action. Officials charged the corporation with holding the Dark Woods “hostage” until boards approve the trust subdivision plans at Katama.

After two town boards granted permission to a Stabuck’s Neck resident Peter T. Sharp to build a tennis court on sensitive property overlooking the Edgartown harbor, the planning board appealed the action in superior court, claiming it had jurisdiction in the case. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Nelson ruled that the Army Corps improperly issued a permit allowing construction of two houses and a tennis court on property adjacent to the Sharp land. The 26-page opinion was issued seven years after 10 Edgartown residents filed suit.

After federal authorities seized an Oak Bluffs house and three Katama properties valued at $1 million, Edgartown residents worried that other land may have been purchased with drug profits and other “dirty” money.

The dangers of unknown property owners, rapid development, expensive lawsuits, water pollution and overworked personnel exist throughout the Vineyard, not just in Edgartown. But in this town, their presence, their number and their severity became all too clear.

A sense of urgency grew. And with it came the realization that the town is not now equipped to fight back.

Compiled by Eulalie Regan