Like most Islanders, I support the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. I even forgave them when they waffled on the new roundabout. The way I see it, you could take all their expenditures over all their years in existence, multiply that amount by 10, and you might possibly approximate the additional property value the commission has added to this lovely Island simply by preventing all the strip malls, waterfront condos and other forms of short-sighted development that would have inevitably come our way. The commission has helped us maintain reasonable growth while protecting the environment. The world now looks at us as a special vacation destination, with increasing admiration because of our respect for our natural setting.
A second reason I love the commission is its formula for assessing the towns for its income. If your house anywhere on the Island is worth X amount, you pay, through your real estate tax, the same amount towards the Commission — the same as anyone else whose house is worth X. Not only is this formula elegantly simple, it is also a way for owners of more valuable properties to pay in proportion to the added benefit the commission provides for them as its sound planning policies raise the attractiveness of the entire Island. The more you own, the more you gain, as the rising tide of careful Island-wide planning lifts all boats.
When I first came to the Island in 1980, J. B. Riggs Parker gave me a copy of a book of his photographs published in 1977 under the title Up-Island Winter. These photos of stone walls, lobster pots, fishing boats and sailboats covered with snow and ice in Menemsha Harbor, intricate bare branches of Beetlebung trees, snow drifts blown against cedar-shingled houses and shadowed by picket fences capture beauty which is still largely preserved for our viewing today.
All this is simply a buildup to explain my reaction to a recent news story about Mr. Parker at a meeting where he said the commission should focus more on planning, less on regulation. I was puzzled that he downplayed the importance of regulation. That would be like having wonderful laws but no enforcement.
Planning and regulation do go together. If you insist on limiting regulation then an agency trying to protect a community’s environment works with one arm tied behind its back. Deep-pocketed developers work with both arms. Consider the resources that a multi-national corporation such as Stop & Shop enjoys as it works to shape public opinion and gain approval of an expanded operation situated between the SSA terminal and Five Corners. Any town facing such a powerful developer — and every town will at some point do so — needs a level playing field. But the deeper the pockets of the developer, the less level the field. The regulation arm of the commission is an important equalizer.
Mr. Parker was representing his town as a member of the finance committee and so he was focusing on this year’s round of town expenses, including the commission’s assessment. That is altogether appropriate for a Chilmark fincom member at the end of an up-Island Winter. I want to suggest that he adjust one of his mental camera settings, maybe with a wider-angled lens to take in the whole Island.