After heated comments from community members about potential regulation of “community character” — and lots of debate within the commission itself — the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week approved changes to its checklist of criteria for developments of regional impact. In the last meeting of the year and with a new commission set to take over in January, the commission voted to approve the checklist, revised every two years, after about five hours of debate and three recent public hearings on the matter.
The checklist originally contained an item referring to “community character,” potentially calling for a development with density more than 50 per cent greater than the median for the surrounding neighborhood to come before the commission. Members of the building community turned out in force to object to the item, saying that it seemed to regulate house size. Two weeks ago, the commission voted to remove the item from the checklist.
The commission debated the wording of the checklist and why some items were on the list. Commissioner Leonard Jason Jr. was a frequent critic of the checklist, saying it was too onerous.
The commission voted 10-1 in favor of the revised checklist and attached documents, with Mr. Jason the dissenting vote.
Three commission members spoke against a criterion that would call for review of the development of current, former or potential farmland. Mr. Jason called for the item to exempt town-owned land. Edgartown commission representatives Christina Brown and James Joyce voted with him in favor of that change.
The towns are “fully capable of deciding what to do with their own property and they don’t need other towns to tell them what to do,” Mr. Joyce said.
The rest of the commission voted against that amendment.
The commission also discussed at length changes to commission review of the subdivision of lots. In the end, the commission decided that in town areas, land divided into 10 or more lots or parcels would be sent to the commission, and in rural areas, land divided into 10 or more lots (six to nine lots or parcels with concurrence) would come to the commission.
The Chilmark planning board wrote a letter on Dec. 11 that they unanimously opposed reducing the trigger in rural areas.
In other business Thursday, the commissioners got a look at the fiscal year 2014 draft budget, which is slated to go up by 10 per cent, or $122,084.
According to budget documents, a typical house assessed at $500,000 will see their tax bill go up from $20.91 to $23.60 as a result of the increase.
Treasurer Brian Smith and executive director Mark London told commissioners to keep in mind that the budget did not increase over the last few years, with no increase in assessments for fiscal years 2010 through 2012.
The increase this year, they said, could be attributed to ongoing legal fees and an unanticipated increase in the Dukes County Retirement Fund.
The commission also elected officers for the coming year, with Fred Hancock the chairman, Erik Hammarlund the vice chairman and Brian Smith the treasurer.
Mr. Hancock thanked outgoing chairman Chris Murphy, who is leaving the commission, for his “fine leadership.”
“His wisdom and Island knowledge will be missed here,” Mr. Hancock said. “We’ll try to muddle on without him.”
“Are we going to put that to a vote?” Mr. Sederholm said.