Members of the building community came out in force Thursday night with concerns about the Martha Vineyard Commission’s proposed changes to the DRI checklist, the list that dictates what projects are referred to the regional body.
Most of the concerns centered around whether the commission would regulate large houses as developments of regional impact; the commission opted not to mandate that large houses be referred to the commission, but left that decision up to the towns. Part of the checklist does address “community character,” and suggests that developments with a density more than 50 per cent greater than the median for the surrounding neighborhood could be referred to the commission.
The checklist is revised every two years, and the commission has held a series of public hearings about the revisions over the last year. About three people came out to a Nov. 8 public hearing on the matter. At the time, comissioners said they hoped the low attendance was because of a thorough public hearing process. Those who came out last night said it was because of bad weather.
“I think the reason a lot of the people are here, we’re afraid of restrictions people might put on sizes of houses on the Island and we think towns do have the capability of deciding on their own,” said Joseph Chapman, a Chilmark contractor.
“I would point out to you, sir, that we didn’t put that in. We absolutely did not,” said commissioner Doug Sederholm.
“But when you say community character, I’m a little concerned of that. It could be construed in many different ways,” Mr. Chapman responded.
“I certainly respect everything that this group is enabled and empowered to do, but . . . we are an Island that is constantly changing, as much as we want to fight it,” Norman Rankow, the owner of Colonial Reproductions, Inc. said. “We will by nature change or we will die. So how do you manage that change? The cottage on the beach does not remain forever, either God takes it away or the person who comes along and pays 10 million bucks for that parcel.”
He said people who spend money on their land and want to build a large house should be able to do so, and the alternative is “not American in my mind.”
Several argued that community character is subjective.
“How would you judge character?” Mr. Chapman asked. “How would you do it? It’s like creating a rule or a law that you can’t control. You can’t enforce.”
Peter Rosbeck of Tisbury said it sounded to him to like character was the same as house size. “It is really leading down to the same path that we were concerned about before,” he said.
The discussion was at time contentious.
Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma said the idea of regulating character “scare[d] him severely,” and that it was clear that people did not want community character included on the checklist, though he questioned whether the commission would take it out.
“Everything you talk about you guys end up doing,” Mr. Donaroma said.
“That’s really an unfair comment, Mike,” Mr. Sederholm said.
“You’re going to start talking about the houses. You can’t help yourselves. I understand there’s big concern all over the Island. But you have [Districts of Critical Planning Concern]s. You have historic districts,” Mr. Donaroma responded.
Others discussion centered on whether the commission checklist is too restrictive, and whether the tourism industry or the building industry drives the Island economy.
Some said that local planning board and zoning board regulations are enough to regulate the issue, while others questioned whether houses that are smaller than other homes in the neighborhood should be subject to review.
“I think there’s opportunity to relax the DRI checklist,” Oak Bluffs resident and business owner Michael Wallace said. “It’s my feeling it’s very restrictive.” He questioned why developments like a charging station would have regional impact.
He said the commission should have the burden of explaining why each item on the checklist was included.
“Here’s what bothers people,” commissioner Lenny Jason Jr. said. “We started out with what, a four page DRI checklist. And all we hear is we’re trying to loosen things up, and the exact opposite is occurring . . . [builders] see everything that has to come here as an impediment to them earning a living.”
“As I read through this list, there’s a number of categories that I think are wide open to interpretation solely by the commission, and without a lot of . . . meat behind it,” Robert Smith said, adding that the building community is a driving force behind the Island economy.
Commissioner Linda Sibley said that the community character item was in response to a dispute over a planned housing development off Mullen Way, which neighbors opposed as against the character of the neighborhood.
She said issues like housing size, single versus multi-family homes and housing style dictate community character, and is important to the economy. “Our core economy is tourism and the building trades are as vibrant as they are because of tourism, because people fall in love with this place and want to come here. If they decide that this is an ugly place and they don’t want to come here, there will be no building trade.”
“Hundreds of boards across the country have successfully come up with criteria for ensuring community character is protected,” commission executive director Mark London said. “If you have an area that is very cohesive, one would generally want to find ways to ensure new construction fits pretty well.”
“I think it’s very clear that members of the building trades are very concerned about [the community character item],” Mr. Sederholm said. “I think we’ve gotten that message very clearly and we will consider that when we deliberate on this.”
The comment period on the DRI checklist will continue for two weeks, and the commission will next discuss the checklist at their Dec. 6 meeting.