In the wake of overwhelming votes in five Island towns against the controversial roundabout project, a longtime member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has called for the regional planning agency to revisit its own position on the plan.
At the end of the MVC meeting last Thursday night, Leonard Jason Jr. announced his intention to request a new vote on the controversial roundabout planned for the blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs, a divisive, much-debated issue on the Vineyard.
“How do we address the fact that in five towns that put the question on the ballot, 70 per cent of them voted not to do it?” Mr. Jason said, referring to the nonbinding referendum votes. “I feel those are our constituents and they’ve spoken,” he said.
“In the end, they’ve elected and appointed us to make the best decision,” commission chairman Chris Murphy countered. “Not necessarily to do the most popular decision.”
Voters in Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury voted against the roundabout project at the ballot box this spring. The issue did not appear on the ballot in Oak Bluffs, where the roundabout would be located, but on the town meeting floor, voters said they favored the roundabout.
Last October, the MVC approved the roundabout by a vote of 7-6 after reviewing it as a development of regional impact. One month later Mr. Jason, who has been a vocal opponent of the project, led a move to rescind the vote. The commission deadlocked at 6-6, and the vote stood.
But last week the issue was back on the table after members voted to extend the meeting past 10 p.m. to discuss the issue, though some commissioners voiced exasperation about reviving the roundabout debate.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” said commissioner Doug Sederholm.
“I can’t see revisiting a project six months after it’s been approved and opening up that kind of can of worms,” commissioner Fred Hancock said, adding that the town votes were nonbinding resolutions. “To me, that’s not a fair measure for reconsidering something . . . I think this is a horrible precedent.”
“Just because we’ve never done this before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least consider doing it,” said commissioner Brian Smith, adding that he felt there are a lot of issues with the roundabout that need to be discussed.
After a procedural discussion and some concerns about precedent Thursday night, commission chairman Chris Murphy said all Mr. Jason had to do was announce his intention to call a vote to rescind the roundabout.
“You have every right to do that, I believe,” Mr. Murphy said, adding that after giving notice about the vote, it will require a simple majority to pass.
“We’re looking at an opportunity to do what I believe is the right thing,” Mr. Jason said. He will make a motion to rescind the earlier roundabout decision at the commission’s next meeting on Thursday, June 21.
Oak Bluffs selectmen and the police chief support the project. At the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday this week, the board voted to send the commission a letter asking them to uphold their initial discussion.
“I don’t understand and it just seems crazy to me,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “I think we should write to them and ask them that they made a decision and they stand by it.”
“Yeah, talk about precedent,” selectman and board chairman Kathy Burton said. “They could do that on every decision they make and lose all credibility.”
In other business last Thursday, the commission voted to not require a public hearing review for the renovation and expansion project at the West Tisbury library.
During a public hearing about Rymes Propane’s proposal to operate a propane delivery business off High Point Lane in Vineyard Haven, the commission said it will look into whether the DRI status of the property, which was triggered by the storage of fuel, can be lifted if the company moves to a different location.
A public hearing continued on the Edgartown National Bank plan to convert the old Oyster Bar in Oak Bluffs into a two-story mixed-use building containing a bank branch, retail space and apartments, with architect William Christopher explaining changes made to the building in response to concerns from the town and abutters.
Neighbors and members of the Oak Bluffs historic commission sparred over the location of an automatic teller machine. The historic commission was firmly against placing an ATM in the front of the building, while neighbors argued against placing the ATM in an alley on the side of the building.
While Priscilla Sylvia, a member of the Oak Bluffs historic commission, said she was happy with the new version of the building, which includes minor changes suggested by the commission like wood trim and a widow’s walk feature on the roof, the commission was insistent that an ATM should not be located in the front of the building.
But residents of the Camp Ground said they had concerns about noise from proposed roof decks, adequate parking, and the ATM placement.
“The alleyway is very narrow and the sound echoes back,” said Craig Lowe, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, who said he was confident they could come to an agreement about the ATM placement.
The architect said he would look into the possibility of moving the ATM into a vestibule in the front of the building.
“Am I missing something here?” Mr. Jason said after the debates. “We’re turning a nightclub into a bank.”