After a brief public hearing and a whirlwind deliberation session, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a community center for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Black Brook Road.
The community center is in fact already partially built. The tribe first broke ground on the center in the spring of 2004; the building remains half-finished.
Originally funded by a federal grant, another $300,000 is needed for completion. The project was referred to the commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI) earlier this year following an agreement between the town and the tribe over review of land use projects.
The federally recognized Wampanoags are a sovereign nation, but under the terms of an agreement signed between the town and the tribe in 1986 the tribe is bound to abide by state and local zoning laws. The agreement was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in a recent court case brought by the Wampanoags.
The town-tribe collaborative agreement on land use review followed the court ruling.
Thursday’s hearing at the MVC was a notably collaborative affair.
Tribal planner Durwood (Woody) Vanderhoop started the public hearing by greeting the commission in his native Algonquian language. He said the community center would play a vital role in preserve the tribe’s culture.
“Many of our customs and traditions are always under pressure from the outside world. We see this center as a place where our people can come together and celebrate our culture,” Mr. Vanderhoop said.
Several commissioners praised the level of detail in the application and the overall value of the community center both to the tribe and the town.
“You’ve gone through two levels of planning already — the town and the tribe — and it certainly shows,” commissioner Linda Sibley said.
“This project embodies the very idea of community building we always talk about,” added commissioner Peter Cabana.
Mr. Vanderhoop said the center would occasionally host functions such as weddings and powwows.
The commission approved the center with conditions, including one requiring tribal officials to submit a maintenance schedule for storm water drainage and another requiring the use of slow-release, water-soluble fertilizers. Another condition requires all ground lighting to be turned off within one hour after the center closes.
At the close of the public hearing, commissioner Ned Orleans described the community center as a sort of “up-Island YMCA,” another community center recently approved by the commission.
“Is there any other comment before we close this love-fest?” asked chairman Douglas Sederholm, before the commission voted its unanimous approval.