Developers of the Meetinghouse Place subdivision in Edgartown have appealed the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s decision to deny the plan, setting up a potential court battle over the commission’s broad powers to regulate developments on the Vineyard.
Utah developers Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews want to subdivide 54 acres in the rural perimeters of Edgartown into 29 house lots.
The commission voted to deny the plan in a 10-4 vote in August after an exhaustive two-year review that included multiple redesigns of the plan and numerous public hearings.
Density, environmental impacts and the increasing build-out and suburbanization of the Vineyard were all issues during the hearings and review. Developers redesigned the plan three times and offered to make substantial contributions to affordable housing, among other things.
In the end the commission decided by a large majority that the detriments of the development plan outweighed the benefits.
In the final written decision recorded last week, commission executive director Adam Turner formally spelled out the reasons for the denial.
“The commission finds that although the project satisfied in some form many of the MVC guidelines, it did not provide sufficient benefits to outweigh the overwhelming detriment to the rural, natural character of the area, and the Vineyard as a whole,” it says in part. “In the end . . . the project remained out of character. The houses remained out of scale, and environmental and energy issues were never fully solved.”
In a 30-page appeal filed in Dukes County superior court Wednesday, attorneys for the developers called the decision to deny the project on the grounds of character, among other considerations, “arbitrary and capricious,” arguing at length that the regional planning body did not consider necessary alternatives, overstepped its enabling legislation and denied a project that adhered to nearly all of its conditions.
“The commission’s finding that the project would ‘suburbanize’ the Vineyard, add more ‘luxury’ housing which is allegedly unneeded and would be ‘out of character’ were arbitrary and whimsical, inconsistent, subjective and denied the proposed development on non-uniform standards,” the appeal says in part.
The complaint also claims commissioners “moved the goalposts” on applicants and devised their own “ad hoc” standards of review on issues like house size, conservation land and the number of units allowable on a given site.
“The commission created standards to fit individual commissioners’ agendas,” the complaint says. “Therefore, its decision is void as a matter of law.”
Created by an act of the state legislature in 1974, the commission is a regional planning body charged with preserving the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, and cultural values of the Island, as well as promoting sound local economies. Its broad powers include reviewing and regulating what are termed developments of regional impact (DRI).
The Meeting House project was referred to the commission as a mandatory DRI in the spring of 2018 by the Edgartown planning board.
It is the largest subdivision to come before the commission in many years.
The two developers bought the property off Meeting House Way in 2017 for $6.6 million. They are represented in the appeal by Edward T. Dangel, an Edgartown attorney with the firm Dangel & Mattchen.