A key subcommittee of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted 7-2 this week to recommend denial of a large subdivision proposed for off Meetinghouse Way, amid debate that followed familiar battle lines.

Discussion at Monday’s land use planning committee (LUPC) meeting centered around many of the questions of the day on the Vineyard, including balancing growth with preservation as the Island struggles to maintain its rural character amid rising traffic, population and home prices.

The full commission was scheduled to take up the issue Thursday, but on Wednesday consideration and a vote on the controversial project was postponed. Executive director Adam Turner said he was concerned that there would not be enough time on the schedule to give the topic its due.

“The agenda is too busy, and I don’t want to force it in,” Mr. Turner said. “I didn’t want to be pressed for time with the full commission . . . I want to have a full discussion,” he said.

Mr. Turner said he made the decision after consulting with commission leadership. He added that the postponement was his decision and not made at the request of the applicant. At press time Thursday, no date had been set for a new meeting for the vote. 

This isn’t the first delay for the developers of Meetinghouse Place. Early plans to subdivide the 54-acre property off Meetinghouse Way into 34-market rate lots were later revised after residents voiced a wide array of concerns about the project, including density. Developers went back to the drawing board, returning to the commission earlier this summer with a revised version of the project.

In the new plan, developers want to allow for 38 more densely clustered homes on the wooded, undeveloped property, avoiding a section of rare moth habitat. One of the lots would have five duplex townhouses aimed at first-time homeowners or empty nesters, with sale prices capped at $579,000. The other 28 lots are planned for single family homes with a maximum size of 4,800 square feet. 

The developers, a limited liability company led by Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews who bought the property in 2017 for $6.6 million, have also upped their affordable housing contribution in the revised plan. They now are offering to contribute $1.1 million outright to affordable housing, along with a package of incentives tied the future sale of lots.

A public hearing on the new plan was closed two weeks ago, with many residents still voicing concerns about density and ecological impacts, among other things.

Those concerns were echoed at the post-public hearing review at the LUPC meeting Monday.

In the end, the subcommittee voted to recommend denial of the project on the grounds that it is too large and still offered too little in the form of mitigation.

“I think there are still too many units. I think the size of the houses is excessive. I think it still has a very suburban visual,” said commissioner Linda Sibley, who moved to recommend denial of the project.

Commissioner Joan Malkin seconded the motion.

“I am pretty much on the same wavelength as Linda,” she said. “This [area] is suitable for less intense development.”

Commissioner Fred Hancock agreed. 

“My feeling is this is too much development,” he said. “If there was more different price-point housing, then I could see there’s an excuse for building this. But I don’t think there’s a shortage of millionaire houses on the Island,” he continued. “This would be moving everything in a direction that we don’t want to go in.”

Other commissioners felt differently. Jim Joyce said denying the project, as well as other subdivisions that meet zoning regulations, would actually make other homes more expensive. He also said denying the project would set a bad precedent moving forward.

“I don’t think that it’s overkill,” Mr. Joyce said. “What happens by not allowing some of these subdivisions to be created is it drives up the cost of what’s available.”

Commissioner Clarence (Trip) Barnes 3rd said that projects such as Meetinghouse Place help maintain the Island’s year-round economy.

“This is also what we do for a living, we paint them and we mow them and we build them,” Mr. Barnes said. “Because there isn’t any more fishing and there isn’t any more farming.”

Commissioners Robert Doyle, Doug Sederholm, Linda Sibley, Ben Robinson, Kathy Newman, Fred Hancock and Joan Malkin voted in favor of the motion to recommend denial. Commissioners Jim Joyce and Trip Barnes voted against it. Public hearing chairman Richard Toole abstained.

As spelled out in its unique enabling legislation, the commission evaluates a project based upon the benefits and detriments using a checklist, including the project’s impact on wastewater, lighting, noise, traffic, housing and scenic values. The commission can also consider intangibles of a project not enumerated by the checklist. Those include the broader-scale impacts of a project, like its effect on the character of the Island as a whole.

MVC chairman Doug Sederholm underscored that point on Monday.

“The question is, at what point does this body take action to prevent the total suburbanization of Martha’s Vineyard?” Mr. Sederholm asked. “At what point do we draw the line, and say enough is enough? But if we do choose to draw the line, we have to be consistent from that point onward.”