Island Plan for the Future

How much and how should the Vineyard grow?

This is the question that has been posed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and will be addressed tomorrow night at a public forum at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, marking the second to last in a series of community discussions that have been held throughout the summer as part of the Island Plan, a fifty-year comprehensive plan for the Island.

The commission has done some excellent and detailed work on the plan, which began nearly three years ago and continues today.

The volume of material that has been assembled by the Island Plan steering committee, a broad group made up of people from all walks of life on the Island, is at once impressive and overwhelming and takes some time to read; all of it is posted on the commission’s Web site ( Materials from the Island Plan are also available in Island public libraries.

The material is worth taking the time to read and digest; some of it is quite thought-provoking about the many complicated issues that now confront the Island with its distinctly finite land and natural resources.

Tomorrow night’s forum intends to address a long list of critical topics, including:

• How much more development should there be on the Island?

• How many people can the Vineyard house year-round and seasonally while still preserving its rural character and lifestyle?

• Where should development take place?

• Of the remaining undeveloped land on the Island, how much of it should be developed and how much should be protected?

• How can new development be made to fit into existing neighborhoods?

• How can the natural environment be better protected?

• How can historic villages and scenic vistas be preserved?

• What about neighborhoods that have special character but are not considered historic?

• Should new villages be built and if so, where?

Projections developed by the commission show that under current zoning some six thousand homes could be built in addition to the sixteen thousand homes that currently exist on the Island.

The Island plan study group is considering an examination of existing zoning rules with an eye toward possibly rewriting these rules. For example, Nantucket planners decided to divide their island into two categories — town and country — with different zoning rules for each area.

Much other interesting information has been assembled by the various work groups for the Island plan. One work group that examined historic buildings and districts found that about two thousand Island buildings are more than one hundred years old, while another fifteen hundred were built in the years leading up to the end of World War II. More than nine hundred of these old buildings are located in six designated historic districts on the Vineyard, while nearly two thousand others are located in so-called historic areas and established neighborhoods.

These buildings and the areas where they are located form a key segment of the Vineyard’s character, and they may be at risk because of inadequate rules for protection, the work group found.

Good planning has been the backbone of the Vineyard over the years, reaching back to the Metcalf and Eddy report in the early nineteen seventies, which led eventually to the formation of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

In that light, perhaps it can be said that the planning effort on the Vineyard has come full circle. The Island plan is indeed an ambitious effort, and this winter the commission and steering committee leaders will begin to take three years worth of work, study and discussion and shape it into a blueprint for the future of the Vineyard.

And because any comprehensive plan must have the full weight of the Island community behind it, public participation is vital. This is arguably the last chance for the Vineyard to get it right and take aggressive steps to protect the environment, the richly diverse human population and the historic buildings and scenic vistas that are fast disappearing in the face of continued pressures from unchecked growth and development.

Tomorrow’s forum begins at seven-thirty in the evening in the Agricultural Hall.