Edgartown Voters Reject Plan for Chappaquiddick at Annual Town Meeting

By MANDY LOCKE

In a marathon annual town meeting, Edgartown residents voted down the Martha's Vineyard Commission's designation of Chappaquiddick as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC).

Voting 195 to 134 not to establish the boundaries of the Chappaquiddick district, the town eliminated the district designation in one fell swoop.

The vote by paper ballot - which followed a brief series of impassioned speakers - undid 10 months of planning forums. It also slashed five zoning articles - crafted through the DCPC working groups - from the 70-article warrant.

There will now be no affordable housing advisory committee for Chappaquiddick. Also eliminated by the vote were proposals to cap building rates, to limit house foundation sizes, to extend the jurisdiction of the wetland protection bylaw and to restrict landscaping and lighting within the wetland zone.

Tuesday, in the first session of the two-night meeting, specific issues often took a back seat to questions of town autonomy, bureaucracy and special privileges for neighborhoods.

"This is totally inadequate. We make more committees and more discussion groups. We talk and talk and talk and we do nothing," said one vocal opponent of the Chappaquiddick DCPC, speaking against the creation of the affordable housing committee.

"We do have special issues over there to be addressed by people on Chappaquiddick," said Roger Becker, a Chappaquiddick resident and supporter of the planning district.

"It's a bad precedent. A neighborhood would be subject to special privileges," Peter Look proclaimed from the back of the Old Whaling Church.

"We have an ad hoc affordable housing committee in Edgartown. Rather than form a separate one for Chappaquiddick, why don't we just get members from Chappy," selectman Ted Morgan said, earning a round of applause from the audience.

In the end, the town voted to form the Chappaquiddick affordable housing advisory committee 232 to 98, just enough votes for the necessary two-thirds. But since the town voted not to set the bounds of the district, the establishment of the committee is void. The DCPC designation officially expires June 7.

Throughout Tuesday's meeting, the 337 Edgartown residents spoke frequently as residents of a particular neighborhood. The Katama, Chappaquiddick and Ocean Heights banter ranged from gentle ribbing to borderline insults. The Martha's Vineyard Commission took its share of hits as well.

"If you vote this down, they don't get in the door," said Ronald Monterosso of Chappaquiddick, referring to the MVC. "The Martha's Vineyard Commission tends to work around your [town] boards.

"It's the only place where Alice of Wonderland logic applies. If there was a problem on Chappaquiddick, the board of health would have looked into it. But [the board of health] requires data and facts. There is an absence of facts in this case," Mr. Monterosso said.

Conservation commission member, Chappaquiddick resident and long proponent of the DCPC Edo Potter countered Mr. Monterosso's argument.

"It don't believe there's another port town in New England like ours - with its diversity of scenery, diversity of architecture and diversity of people. As we grow, the rural parts become more important," Mrs. Potter said, adding that 271 more houses and 351 more guest houses could be built on Chappaquiddick.

"As a DCPC, we can consider things the town cannot. We should continue these differences. The entire town will benefit," she said.

Said Chappaquiddick resident Bob Fynbo: "I don't question the beauty of Chappaquiddick, but the real issues are traffic congestion, ferry lines and beach access. There's not public transportation and there's no bike path."

Mr. Fynbo said the proposed building cap for Chappaquiddick and the accompanying exemptions serve the interests of the wealthy few.

"It makes it even harder for the medium-income person. It exempts you if you can dedicate land for conservation. People who don't have money - this won't help them," Mr. Fynbo said.

Moderator Philip (Jeff) Norton Jr. moved the boundary distinction issue to vote by Australian, or secret, ballot. Discussions over the building cap continued while town officials tabulated votes.

Planning board member Michael Donaroma said the proposed building cap keeps growth on Chappaquiddick relatively stable.

"Six is still a number Chappaquiddick can live with, and it takes the swing out," he said.

Residents began to question how the six building permit limit for Chappaquiddick would affect another article on the warrant that proposed extending a townwide building cap for two years.

"If Chappy gets six, how many does Ocean Heights get?" asked a voter in the back.

Officials explained the six permits for Chappaquiddick would be part of the proposed 84 total for the town. If all six were not used, the remainder would be available in the general town pool.

Benjamin Hall questioned the legal implications of a town restricting individual property rights for such an extended period of time.

"We had a building cap, then a moratorium. At a certain point in time, one could argue very effectively that the town is taking their rights and their property. We're stretching it out - pushing the envelope. It could be a blank check. Who's paying Ron's bill?" Mr. Hall asked.

When Chappaquiddick resident Maureen Baron attempted to defend the district nomination, she ended up offending some Katama residents.

"The commission passed [the DCPC designation] for a reason. There's more good in it than bad," Ms. Baron said.

"We don't agree with the existing bylaws for Chappaquiddick. We don't want another Katama over on Chappy," Ms. Baron said, and was met with a chorus of boos.

The discussion ended when Mr. Norton announced that voters had rejected the DCPC. The article needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

The town killed the other zoning articles proposed by town boards related to Chappaquiddick.

The town approved adding a definition for "detached bedroom" to the zoning bylaws. The ordinance limits "detached bedrooms" to bedrooms and bathrooms. It must be no larger than 400 square feet. No sitting rooms, alcoves, hallways, stoves or refrigerators would be allowed in a detached bedroom.

The town also approved an article by a vote of 187 to 34 to let employers build staff apartments for employees in any town district with a special permit from the zoning board of appeals.

The town voted down an amendment to the bylaw, proposed by Benjamin (Buzzy) Hall, to allow not just employers but also other individuals to construct housing for seasonal employees.

"Business people are having trouble keeping help. At one time, big employers had dormitories, but they sold them. We need this - it's urgent," Mr. Morgan said.

"Little by little, we erode our property rights. We buy a house and trust there is certain zoning," Leigh Braude said, adding that she had recently been involved as a neighbor in fighting the large, outdoor functions at the Winnetu Inn and Resort.

"It's hard to organize against a business. It's hard to organize and stand up and defend yourself," she said.

"We thought a lot about this. It holds the employer responsible, and it must be acceptable to the neighbors. It's difficult to get a special permit," Mr. Donaroma said on behalf of the planning board.

Edgartown residents approved 147 to 45 to reinstate a two-year building cap for the town - limiting permits to 84 for the next two years. The article had been placed on the ballot by petition.

"We're growing extremely fast. If we continue at this speed, we'll be much larger than we intend," resident and building cap petitioner James Athearn said, noting the population of Edgartown jumped from 1,481 in 1970 to 3,779 in 2000.

"This is an insurance policy that building rates won't spike dramatically in the next two years. We don't have room for another business district, which we'd need if we continue to grow," Mr. Athearn said.

Voters unanimously passed a demolition delay zoning bylaw, which forces property owners to offer a house to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority before tearing it down.

Without debate, Edgartown residents approved prohibiting two-stroke boat engines in the Edgartown Ponds District. They also voted to prohibit the use of synthetic products such as fertilizers and other quick release chemicals in the ponds district.

A proposed height restriction for houses within 300 feet of the Edgartown ponds livened debate in a meeting that had spilled well past 10 o'clock. The proposal to limit house height to 21 feet for a pitched roof and 13 feet for a flat roof had been submitted by the Edgartown ponds advisory committee as part of the Edgartown Ponds DCPC, adopted 12 years ago.

"Large houses have been proposed, massive have been contemplated. These large houses are fragmenting wildlife and obstructing historic views and vistas. All we're saying, is that if you want to build a huge house within 300 feet, you still can, but you need a special permit," said Steve Ewing, a member of the conservation and ponds advisory committee, explaining that the bylaw would give the town input into the design and location of a house. Mr. Ewing said the conservation commission recently approved a 10,000-square-foot house on Oyster Pond, scaled down from a proposed 15,000 square feet.

A voter asked if a 21-foot roof would allow someone to build a two-story house with eight-foot ceilings and an attic. A chorus of "no" echoed through the room.

Planning board member Norman Rankow said he did not support the article because it promotes bad architecture.

"If it's 21 feet, they'll simply build it out. That's bad architecture. A historic review would be better; it has more teeth. Twenty-four or 26 feet is more reasonable," Mr. Rankow said.

George Flynn - whose father began accumulating land around the ponds at the turn of the century - read a letter from the Pohogonot Trust, the landholders of the remaining acres of family land.

"These bylaws are vague and arbitrary. Why should we be treated differently from other waterfront properties?" Mr. Flynn asked. He said the trust would be unfairly bearing the burden of such restrictions. He also objected to the fact that the Herring Creek subdivision would be exempt from the bylaw.

In the end, 84 voters supported the height limit and 76 were opposed, which fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

Mr. Ewing then withdrew an article limiting houses within the 300-foot shore zone to 5,000 square feet.

Only 23 articles into the 70-article warrant, it was past 11 p.m. and the quorum of 135 voters was in jeopardy when Mr. Norton continued the meeting to Wednesday night.

The second night of the annual town meeting began with a wait of almost an hour for quorum.

Voters breezed through the remaining 47 articles with relative speed, granting chunks of the town's $1.2 million in free cash to various departments and projects.

The town indefinitely postponed an article to help fund the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, because the agency has asked towns to pull the article.

Voters did approve an article that would ask the town to join other Island towns and the housing authority in petitioning the state legislature to give the towns power to extend deed restrictions for affordable housing beyond 30 years. It also asks to change "affordable" from families making 80 per cent of the median income to 150 per cent of the county's $40,000 median income.

The town also approved construction of a sidewalk on the north side of Clevelandtown Road. Voters also granted $37,000 for consulting and architectural planning for the Edgartown Public Library.

Tensions resurfaced Wednesday night during a discussion over a petitioned request to widen Chappaquiddick Road three feet on both sides, using money available in the highway superintendent's budget.

"It's a narrow road. There is no place for people to walk, jog or ride a bike," said Mr. Monterosso, noting that residents often get clipped by passing cars.

"It's not that it's too narrow; it's that people speed. The highway department or the town has offered no input into this process," Chappaquiddick resident Mary Spencer said.

Chappaquiddick residents Bob Enos and Kitt Johnson said the highway superintendent is supportive of this road widening project.

Other voters expressed concern with approving a costly project with no specific dollar amount attached.

"Let's face it. We have a tourist-based economy. This will help our livelihood. I don't care what it will cost. We need it," Mike Joyce said.

Chappaquiddick resident Skip Bettencourt said that widening the road will just allow cars to go faster. In the end, voters postponed the road widening project indefinitely.

Edgartown concluded the second session of its town meeting just after 10 p.m. Wednesday.