Towns Move to Protect North Shore; Plan Goes to MVC for Vote Next Week

By JULIA WELLS

Gazette Senior Writer

A new plan to protect the rugged and pristine north shore of the Vineyard is expected to be unveiled next week when four town conservation commissions ask the Martha's Vineyard Commission to nominate a long stretch of coastline as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC).

Named the Wild and Scenic North Shore DCPC, the proposed special planning district runs along the northern coastal edge of four towns, from West Chop to Aquinnah. The MVC is expected to vote on the nomination at a special meeting next Thursday night.

The north shore DCPC will be nominated by the conservation commissions in Tisbury, West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah. The four town conservation commissions voted unanimously to support the proposal.

"There is solid, solid support for this," said West Tisbury conservation commission chairman Judy Crawford.

If the nomination is approved, an automatic building moratorium will go into effect. Not much building is permitted in coastal areas, but the moratorium would include structures like piers, groins and swimming docks.

The boundaries of the proposed district run from the Gay Head Light eastward to the West Chop Light, and include everything from mean low water 100 feet seaward. The district will not impinge on any private property, Mrs. Crawford said.

Special overlay planning districts accompanied by special regulations, DCPCs are permitted by the enabling legislation that created the Martha's Vineyard Commission. There are numerous DCPCs throughout the Vineyard, from roadside districts to coastal areas to places with historic and archeological significance.

Once a nomination is accepted for a DCPC, the commission then sets a date for a public hearing and a vote on whether to designate the district. If the district is designated, a yearlong planning effort then follows. The building moratorium stays in effect until planning work is done and regulations are adopted for the district.

This week the West Tisbury selectmen gave the project their unanimous support.

The move to create some kind of special protection for the north shore grows out of an effort begun several years ago to encourage north shore property owners to adopt a set of voluntary covenants restricting piers and structures on the shoreline. Many residents endorsed the concept, but for a variety of reasons the project was never completed.

Concern about protecting the north shore recently took on new life when West Tisbury resident Steven Rattner pressed his plans to build a permanent pier on the north shore between Paul's Point and Cedar Tree Neck. There are no other piers on that stretch of beach. The Rattner pier plan was reviewed by the MVC as a development of regional impact - and rejected.

"It [does not] seem prudent to the commission to risk irreversible damage to a state-designated barrier beach by having a development such as this permitted," the commission wrote in its decision.

Mr. Rattner appealed the commission decision in a lawsuit.

MVC executive director Charles W. Clifford said yesterday that he expects the commission to accept the nomination for the north shore DCPC.

"I see no reason why the commission wouldn't favorably consider it," he said yesterday.

The group sponsoring the DCPC is expected to meet with all stakeholders on the north shore, including an array of private homeowner associations and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), to enlist their support.

The proposal will include grandfathered protection for fishing rights and also for maintenance of any existing docks in the district. It also envisions protection measures for kelp, mussel and eelgrass beds in what is known as the near-shore ecosystem.

"The important thing is the process of the DCPC that allows for a whole year of discussion and work - it's really the people that define the wording of the regulations," Mrs. Crawford said.

The executive summary for the nomination of the DCPC declares:

"The north shore of Martha's Vineyard, from Aquinnah to Tisbury, comprises one of the last stretches of virtually pristine shoreline anywhere on the East Coast. This remarkable area provides a unique geological, ecological, recreational, educational and scenic resource of inestimable value."

Mrs. Crawford said the statement is an apt summary. "That says in a nutshell what this is about - what we are trying to do is keep it as free as possible of human made structures such as piers and groins," she said.

The four-town cooperative effort is a key theme in the DCPC proposal.

"It rarely happens on this Island that towns cooperate like this to make something that's positive for the Island. This is just golden and there are a lot of people behind it," Mrs. Crawford said.