Eric Wodlinger, longtime counsel to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Cape Cod Commission, died last week at the age of 62. He had a quiet presence on the Vineyard, but he leaves a large legacy.

During his tenure as the commission’s counsel, Eric effectively advocated for Vineyard interests before Massachusetts courts at all levels, including the superior court, the land court, the court of appeals and the Supreme Judicial Court.

Let me briefly describe a few of the key cases Eric argued for the commission:

• In 1989, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a decision of the commission authorizing the construction of an agricultural greenhouse with a 4,000-gallon fuel tank against a challenge by the town of Tisbury that a local bylaw limited the size of the tank. The appeals court held that the commission “properly concluded that the proposed fuel tank was reasonable for its intended farm use; and that . . . the bylaw limiting the size of the fuel storage tanks would constitute an unreasonable regulation of agriculture in violation of G. L. c. 40A, § 3.” The property affected is known as Thimble Farm.

• In 1990, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected a challenge by James Crocker claiming that the Chilmark planning board had constructively approved his proposed subdivision on the ground that Chilmark’s referral of his project to the commission for a development of regional impact review did not stop the time period for review established under the subdivision control law. (The commission was still deliberating the project when the time period for the planning board to act elapsed.) The Supreme Court disagreed with Crocker and reiterated that the commission was created to “preserve and conserve . . . the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard . . . by protecting these values from development and uses which would impair them . . . .” The state’s highest court ruled that the Massachusetts legislature did not intend to enact a scheme whereby the time periods set forth in the subdivision control law would preclude the commission from reviewing a DRI. Ultimately, Crocker did not develop his property, but rather sold it to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. The property is now known as Waskosim’s Rock Reservation.

• In 2002, the commission joined with the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals in arguing that provisions of Chapter 40B of the Massachusetts General Laws, which allows local ordinances to be superseded for certain affordable housing projects, did not apply to a commission DRI review. The land court, in agreeing with the town and the MVC, held that the commission has the power to review Chapter 40B projects:

“The project proponents stressed the clear legislative concern for affordable housing embodied in Chapter 40B . . . they then point to the undoubted fact that referral of a project to the MVC will slow down, or perhaps even prevent, Chapter 40B approval. All that is true, but it is equally true that the General Court, and the appellate courts, have shown clear concern for the unique status of the Vineyard.”

Ultimately, 234 acres were preserved, which the land bank purchased in the area known as the Southern Woodlands.

• In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld a challenge to a townwide building cap enacted by the town of Barnstable and approved as a district of critical planning concern by the Cape Cod Commission. The SJC, in rejecting a challenge that town boundaries could not be used to define the parameters of a DCPC, paved the way for enactment of building caps in various of the towns on the Vineyard and later, the adoption of a townwide DCPC by Aquinnah.

• In 2004, the commission joined the town of Aquinnah and the commonwealth in arguing that the Wampanoag Tribe was not immune from local land use regulations. The SJC decided in favor of the town.

• In 2007, the Appeals Court affirmed a decision of the commission to deny Tisbury Fuel Services a permit to build the 10th gasoline service station on the Vineyard. The court recognized that the commission appropriately weighed “the benefits of the proposed project to the Island against its detriments,” as required by the enabling act.

• In 2009, the SJC upheld a challenge to Aquinnah’s townwide DCPC.

In 2010, Attorney Wodlinger, on behalf of the Cape Cod Commission, argued that the public trust doctrine enabled the Cape Cod Commission to review and regulate Cape Wind’s construction of a cable connecting the wind turbines to the shore under lands owned by the commonwealth. While the SJC rejected that position, a sharply-worded dissent by former chief justice Margaret Marshall, joined by another justice, urged that improvements by a private developer in the tidelands of the commonwealth (from mean low water to three miles offshore) should be carefully regulated to make sure that the public interest was adequately protected.

• At the time of his death, Eric was involved in a long-running court dispute seeking to preserve five special ways in the town of Edgartown.

The cases cited above are a public testament to the outstanding service Eric provided this community in his role as legal counsel to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, a job he held for almost 30 years, and to the Cape Cod Commission, a job he held since that body’s creation in 1989. Equally important, although not public, were the multitude of instances in which Eric, by counseling against taking a legally untenable position, helped to shape a fairer result.

Eric Wodlinger was a counselor in the best sense of the term. He provided frank and honest advice, astute guidance, and was an invaluable resource to the commission and others, including myself. He coupled a keen intellect with plain common sense. He was a kind and gentle person.

Eric never lived on the Vineyard, but he loved this community and his interest extended beyond politics and law. He was a founding member of Vineyard Youth Tennis, a program which offers free tennis instruction to Vineyard youth, and until his death served as a board member for that organization. (As a result of this program, all members of the high school tennis teams have received instruction at Vineyard Youth Tennis, and last year both the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams played in the state playoffs.)

Eric Wodlinger’s passing is a loss for our community. He will be missed, but the legacy of his work remains to serve this Island for generations.

Ronald H. Rappaport is an Edgartown attorney and town counsel to five of the six Vineyard towns as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank.