It took critics of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission no time at all to decry its 10-4 decision last week to deny the proposed Meeting House Place subdivision in Edgartown, but the MVC did exactly what it was created to do.

Utah-based developers, Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews, made numerous revisions to their proposal during a painstaking, nearly two-year review process, reducing the number of lots from 36 to 29 on the 54-acre parcel, shrinking the maximum size of the houses and pledging $1.1 million to the town’s affordable housing fund.

But after weighing the project’s economic benefits against potential negative effects on groundwater, energy consumption and traffic, among other things, a majority of the commission seemed to agree that the development failed on something less tangible.

“To me, it fails on character,” said longtime commissioner Linda Sibley, summing up what appeared to be the decisive issue. “It is anathema to the character of the Vineyard. And particularly to that area.”

If the word seems impossibly subjective, so is the mission of the commission as set forth in its enabling legislation, which says in part:

“The purpose of the commission created by this act shall be to further protect the health, safety and general welfare of Island residents and visitors by preserving and conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard which contribute to public enjoyment, inspiration and scientific study, by protecting these values from development and uses which would impair them, and by promoting the enhancement of sound local economies.”

Created in 1974 by an act of the Massachusetts legislature and endorsed by Dukes County voters, the commission was purposefully given extraordinary powers to regulate land use on the Vineyard to prevent what it called the danger of irreversible damage to the Island following an unprecedented period of rapid growth.

The commission’s process is anything but casual, however. Its reviews of developments of regional impact, or DRIs as they are known, follow a very public, multi-step process. If the two-year evaluation of Meeting House Place seemed excessively prolonged, it was because the developers kept returning with new efforts to allay concerns raised formally and informally all along the way.

The role of the MVC is not to help developers find a way to get their projects approved, but to decide whether the projects are, on balance, beneficial for the Island. In other words, if the handwriting was already on the wall, the developers opted not to read it.

And if the makeup of the commission tilts toward conservation over development, that is also a reflection of its constituency. The 17 voting members include nine that are elected at large by Vineyard voters, six appointed by the town boards of selectmen and one by the Dukes County commission. Moreover, numerous surveys taken over the years, including several by this newspaper, chronicle deep concern by both full-time and seasonal Islanders about the Island’s environment and the threats of overbuilding to its continued allure.

It does not take a time traveler to recognize that the Vineyard has not exactly shut down development over the past 46 years. All around is evidence of the increasing suburbanization of the Island, ponds under pressure from excessive nitrogen loading, rising complaints of noise and light pollution and key intersections clogged with traffic.

The irony of the MVC’s decision, and one that was flagged by commissioner Richard Toole, is that denial of this development may be more symbolic than consequential. Every day, new houses are built, renovated and expanded on the Island quite legally under local zoning laws that don’t rise to review by the MVC.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the building trades and real estate interests are alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard, and we applaud the decision by the commission not to approve this large and inessential new development.