Editors, Vineyard Gazette;

Since April, the Historic District Committee (HDC) has considered plans for altering the 1912 Mayhew house at 81 South Water street that, as first offered, could have removed its famous turret, expanded its size and seen a large pool and massive retaining wall built on the east of the lot. These plans prompted public opposition in comments and one public rally.

The HDC patiently sought changes to the plans, to my eyes, to make the architecture and scale less inconsistent with neighboring properties.

The HDC observed town requirements for open meetings, until the August 3 meeting. On that day, the commissioners departed from process when the applicant’s agent proposed a big change during this final meeting. Two abutters and other taxpayers who expected to speak were not recognized.

Attendees wondered what happened and why we were not allowed to speak. If an applicant can speak, then the public attendees should be able to speak. Last-minute changes to HDC applications have been allowed before — and will happen again unless stopped by adherence to better process.

Process is important to public trust in public boards. Process gives more assurance of fairness that is essential to trust. Failure to provide full process could be grounds for litigation that comes out of town funds, as has happened.

I have shared four process recommendations with the HDC commissioners and the town’s select board to promote robust and continuing participation by the public. The HDC has guidelines and the town has bylaws on proposals to build in town. If someone does not wish to follow the HDC guidelines or the town’s bylaws, they should build outside the Historic District.

Sarah Jane Hughes