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5.1.15

A Brief History of Vineyard Outrage

 

“Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”   
“Whadda you got?

The Wild One

The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando, may have been set in Carbonville, California, in 1953, but Brando’s defiant “whadda you got?” retort seems to have gained a lot of traction here on the Island. Let’s face it, Vineyarders know how to cop a little attitude. We know what we like, we fight for it, and if that leads to a little friendly conflict­ – bring it on. And if what we want is usually exactly what we’ve already got in exactly the way we’ve already got it, so what? It takes a stiff spine, Pilgrim, to stand tall for stasis.

Some of these conflicts were small and didn’t get much attention outside of town borders: “Keep dogs off of Lambert’s Cove Beach!” comes to mind. Some got to Boston: “New Bedford wants to do WHAT to the Steamship Authority????” Others have ended up on the nightly news or the pages of The New York Times: “Martha’s Vineyard to secede from the union!”

It’s true, there’s very little said or done here that goes by uncontested, as anyone who’s ever gone to a town meeting or read the letters to the editor will attest. But looking back over the years, certain patterns do emerge. And one of the big themes is, we really don’t play well with others, especially if they are bringing newfangled technologies or big plans to the Vineyard. While off-Islanders take for granted things like fast food restaurants, traffic lights, grocery stores, and jet airplanes, we see them as alien invasions. Put simply, when it comes to change, more often than not, we’re against it.

And until things change, we expect to stay that way. There are times when it might appear we make mountains out of molehills, or more to the point, out of substandard bumps (more about that later). Other times we might seem to be digging in our heels against things that run counter to our rural sensibilities, even though on a busy summer weekend there might be 150,000 people jostling for space. (You think there aren’t that many people here in summer? Bring your second at dawn and we’ll settle it with bumper stickers at thirty paces.) But in its own time, every outrage spelled the death of the Island as we know it to one faction, while simultaneously spelling progress (or at least profit) to the other.

They were good fights, well fought. The roundabout and Nobnocket, Don’t Rock the Boat and the Southern Woodlands, Stop & Shop and Sack the Mac, mopeds and mopeds and mopeds and mopeds. And plovers.

And where were you, friend, when the lines were drawn in the mist and fog at Garage Mahal?

With traffic flowing merrily around the roundabout, and Cape Wind seemingly gasping for air, you might be tempted to think that peace has blown into the happy up-Island valleys and snug down-Island harbors on a warm summer breeze. Experience suggests otherwise. (Did we hear somebody whisper “casino”?) For thirty years Martha’s Vineyard Magazine has been at the ringside, and this momentary calm, along with our anniversary, seems like as good a time as any to look back over three decades of Island outrage.

But, of course, in true Vineyard form, we couldn’t quite agree among ourselves how far back to look and ended up looking back a little farther than our inaugural issue in 1985. So, with no more excess verbiage and opinionating, we give you the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine Fulminator’s Hall of Fame.

You’re probably not going to agree with all of them, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, you can vote for your most consequential crises and most tempestuous teapot at mvmagazine.com. You couldn’t do that thirty years ago, now, could you?

No you could not, and it’s a good thing. Those, after all, were the days.

The “It Might Be Hard to Get Those Local Billionaires Fired Up to Fund” award goes to:

NO JETS

In 1969 Northeast Airlines wanted to land jet airliners at Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Concerned citizens felt they were being bullied by the state, and that the change could lead to more tourists than the Island could accommodate. Many local businesses and developers saw this more as an opportunity than a problem. Since the new, extended runway would encroach on the state forest, there were ecological objections as well. How was it all resolved? Just look up at the sky.

 

 

The “Best Slogan for an Already Lost Cause” award goes to:

The slogan on the bumper sticker says it all.

THE SUB STANDARD BUMP

The Edgartown-West Tisbury Road once boasted a ridge that sent cars briefly into the air while crossing. In 1969, a Boston engineer took note of this Island idiosyncrasy while discussing the airport expansion – only he called it a “sub standard bump,” repeatedly. “You will notice there is a rather severe bump in the road....This is an extremely sub standard bump, and as I understand it, it is a local place where some of the kids will hit it at 100 miles an hour to see how high they can fly. The bump is extremely sub standard,” he said. Opponents of the expanded runway already itching for a fight latched on and pulled a
lighthearted full-Brando. To no avail.

 

 

The “Give Me Liberty or Give Me a Beach Key” award goes to:

Senator Edward Kennedy led call to place Vineyard land in federal trust.
Peter Simon

THE ISLAND TRUST BILL

In the early seventies, development was exploding, with hundreds of houses built each year. Concerned that the Island was being irrevocably changed, Senator Edward Kennedy introduced the Nantucket Sound Islands Trust Bill in 1972. The Kennedy Bill, as it became known, would have placed much of the Vineyard and Nantucket in a federal trust, similar to the Cape Cod National Seashore. Cries of benevolent despotism rang out and the bill was eventually defeated. But out of the controversy came the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), which Island attorney Ron Rappaport has described as “probably the most powerful – in terms of the scope of its powers – land use planning agency in Massachusetts.”

 

 

The “Whatever Gets You Through the Winter” award goes to:

The official secession poster was designed in 1977 by Sally French, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, and her college classmate William Drake.

SECESSION

In 1977, legislative redistricting lumped the Vineyard with Nantucket and parts of the Cape. Feeling scorned and under-represented, the Island towns voted to secede from Massachusetts and, if need be, the United States. There were marches on the State House. A flag and anthem were created. Cabinet positions were assigned. A bill was introduced in the legislature.

Soon, other states offered to take in the Vineyard, but ultimately Massachusetts never gave in and the movement subsided. Was it all in vain? “We rode the crest of the news story until darned near summer,” said John Alley of West Tisbury, one of the ringleaders of the movement. Plus, “We got scads of publicity, which is what a resort community needs. The place became far more popular than it already was. In retrospect, if we had another opportunity, I think we’d all do it again.”

Vox Vineyardi:  “Will Chappy be happy as a territory, or want equal status in our victory? We love our land from shore to shore. Secession’s the answer. We could take no more.” – Martha’s Vineyard “national anthem,” written by Barbara St. Pierre Hotchkiss

 

 

 

The “Now That They’re Using Non-Antibiotic Chicken, Do We Need to Rethink This?” award goes to:

McDonald's on Martha's Vineyard? This little kid wasn't lovin' it.
Peter Simon

SAC THE MAC

In 1978 McDonald’s tried to erect golden arches on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Irate citizenry brandishing torches, pitchforks, and Sack The Mac signs pushed back the invaders. The New York Times wrote: “Martha’s Vineyard beat back its first Big Mac Attack this month, but how long this island of passionate resistance to the last half of the 20th century can hold out is anyone’s guess.” Note to The New York Times: Don’t hold your breath.

 

 

The “I’m a Plover Not a Fighter” award goes to:

Save the plovers, hurt the fishermen?
Lanny McDowell

MAN VS. CHICK

The Atlantic coast piping plover was designated a threatened species in 1986. In an effort to protect hatchlings, Norton Point Beach has been periodically closed to vehicle traffic for extended durations. Early on, inconvenienced fishermen expressed their contempt – by flaunting piping plover recipes.

 

 

The “You Don’t Necessarily Have to Be a Big Off-Island Corporation to Blow It Completely” award goes to:

The Nobnocket plan called for a bank, supermarket and mall complex on State Road in Vineyard Haven.
Courtesy Martha's Vineyard Commission

NOBNOCKET

In 1987 Edward Redstone, former owner of the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank, proposed a 55,000-square-foot bank/supermarket/mall complex on the site of the old Nobnocket garage on State Road in Vineyard Haven. Despite being approved by the MVC, voters cried foul, twice rejecting Redstone’s mitigation offers and effectively killing the project. Big Yellow Taxi references proliferated, “nobNOcket” bumper stickers sprouted like wild flowers, and opponents closed their bank accounts in protest. After more than four years, Redstone eventually relented, saying, “I am just too tired and old, and accordingly
we will be withdrawing our application.”

Vox Vineyardi: “Sixty-five thousand square feet for a bank and supermarket on Martha’s Vineyard! Did they propose this only to use as a bargaining chip to get something smaller which is still twice too big? We are not playing poker with our land, our safety, or our quality of life.” ­– Barney Zeitz and Michelle Ratte Zeitz, Vineyard Haven, 1987

 

 

The “What Do You Mean We Love Tourist Dollars More  Than Life Itself” award goes to:

Sam Feldman, creator of the Mopeds Are Dangerous bumper stickers, makes his position known.
Mark Lovewell

MOPEDS

There’s one thing about mopeds virtually everyone will agree on: they’re dangerous. During the summer months accidents are frequent, with some leading to serious injuries and even death. But what to do about them? Require motorcycle licenses for drivers? More training and instruction from dealers? Or abolish them altogether?

In 1998 longtime safety advocate Sam Feldman founded the Mopeds Are Dangerous Committee and began distributing the bright red bumper stickers still commonly seen today. That same year committee members marched with bullhorns around Oak Bluffs and drafted legislation requiring all moped drivers possess a motorcycle license – 
a move that would essentially end moped rentals on the Island. Island selectmen backed the legislation; the state did not; the mopeds still crash; the drivers still die.

 

 

The “Thar He Blows” award goes to:

Separated at birth? Ahab (Gregory Peck), left, and New Bedford City Solicitor George Leontire, right.
Right photo: Mark Lovewell

THE SSA PUTSCH

Between 1998 and 2002, New Bedford City Solicitor George Leontire led a crusade to take control of the Steamship Authority and divert routes to New Bedford. The city even sued the SSA, but ultimately lost the battle.

“It’s been a rocky road,” said state Rep. T. Eric Turkington when Leontire finally
conceded defeat and resigned. “I was told he was a very smart guy, and that turned out to
be true. But [the Steamship Authority] was an obsession for him. It became Captain Ahab going after the white whale.”

 

 

The “Can We All Now Just Agree the Guy Was Basically a Jerk?” award goes to:

Bumper stickers proliferated as the controversy intensified.

THE SOUTHERN WOODLANDS

Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith spent years attempting to convert nearly 300 acres off County Road in Oak Bluffs into a private golf course and luxury-home subdivision. Rejected by the MVC three times, in retaliation he threatened to build a “maximum density” 366-home affordable housing project on the site. Meanwhile, one of his associates cut 250 pines and posed for pictures with the stumps. Things got ugly back in town, too. Commissioners quarreled, citizens took out ads in the papers, and Oak Bluffs threatened to withdraw from the MVC. People were mad. Between 1999 and 2003, the Vineyard Gazette received an astonishing 456 letters to the editor on the subject – almost all opposed to the plan.

In 2004, Kupersmith sold two-thirds of the property to the land bank for $18 million and announced his intention to develop the remainder into “the Island’s only gated equestrian community,” offering  “the privacy you want and the lifestyle you have learned.”

As of this year, no houses had been completed and the project seems indefinitely stalled.

 

 

The “A Good Walk Preserved” award goes to:

How many golf courses is too many? The Martha's Vineyard Commission decided.
Alison Shaw

GOLF, GOLF, GOLF

In the early 2000s, with three golf developments proposed, it seemed  half the Island was to be converted to fairways. In the end only the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown was completed. “I am 100 percent certain that this Island couldn’t have supported [the additional] two golf courses,” Linda Sibley of the MVC recalls. “There was a lot of friction and a lot of anger, but I think that’s certainly one of our major accomplishments
in the time that I’ve been there.”

 

 

The “Cognitive Dissonance for the Liberal Mind” award goes to:

Protestors and supporters of Cape Wind co-mingle at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven.
Mark Lovewell

CAPE WIND

In 2001 Cape Wind Associates unveiled plans for 170 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound and lines were quickly drawn around the issue of wind power generally. One side yearned for clean, locally produced energy. Others said the towers would be eyesores, disrupt wildlife, and hurt the fisheries. Wampanoag rituals requiring an unblocked view over Nantucket Sound would be impossible, said the tribe. “It’s despicable to turn this place into an industrial park,” said Buddy Vanderhoop of Aquinnah, and then quipped “Why don’t you put the windmills off the Hamptons?” Walter Cronkite even briefly jumped into the fray, recording a commercial in opposition to the project, which at the moment looks to be dead in the water.

Vox Vineyardi: “I won’t stand for  being called a NIMBY.” – Richard Knabel, West Tisbury, 2010

 

 

The “What’s a Balcony or Two Between Friends?” award goes to:

Mr. Moujabber's garage was ordered demolished – but not before it grabbed headlines, became a focal point on tours, and divided a neighborhood (and the Island at large).
Jaxon White

GARAGE MAHAL

In 2003, Oak Bluffs businessman Joseph Moujabber received a permit to replace an existing 200-square-foot garage at his North Bluff home. Six months later, he unveiled a three-story building with balconies and a roof deck. Islanders howled, the town pulled the permit, and the garage was ordered demolished. Moujabber ultimately rebuilt a more modest garage. A slightly more modest garage, according to some.

Vox Vineyardi: “For the past two summers, some tour buses have taken to stopping in front of the building to tell the story of the infamous Garage Mahal.”  – Belleruth Naparstek, Oak Bluffs, 2008

 

 

The “It’s About Freakin’ Time” award goes to:

The annual shark fishing contest drew revelers and protesters.
Ray Ewing

SHARKS!

There’s something about bloody shark carcasses that brought out the worst in the summer crowd, claimed an Oak Bluffs town official. That ultimately proved to be the epitaph for the Monster Shark Tournament. For over twenty years the tournament had been held with only minor controversy, but in 2004 ESPN put the event on the map and everything began to boil over. Crowds became bigger and more unruly, animal rights activists became more incensed – meanwhile, the town was hauling in between $2 to $3 million in revenues. Something had
to give.

In 2013 Oak Bluffs voters passed a nonbinding referendum insisting the tournament be made catch and release. Longtime tournament organizer Steven James didn’t take kindly to the change, threatening to tell contestants to drop their captured sharks near the shoreline. James died in 2014. That year, tournament organizers relocated to Newport, Rhode Island.

Vox Vineyardi: “How can we celebrate the ineffable beauty of our Island home in the midst of this crushing, radically flawed tournament of shame?” – Steve Maxner, West Tisbury, 2012

 

 

The “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Another Beach Key” award goes to:

To walk or not walk Fido on the beach, that was the question.
Ray Ewing

DOGS ON LAMBERT’S COVE BEACH.

In 2011, West Tisbury was a dog-lover-eat-dog-hater town. The issue: should dogs be allowed on Lambert’s Cove Beach. “Children will be maimed and bare feet beshatted” said one side, while the other side asked rhetorically, “If I can’t walk my dog on the beach, then what the hell am I doing here?”

 At the height of the battle, the Vineyard Gazette even ran a letter to the editor from “Cooper” – a dog. The hot-button issue dominated three town meetings and newspaper headlines for more than six months. “In the old days, a dispute such as this might have been hashed out and resolved on the front porch of Alley’s,” the Gazette wrote in a June 2012 editorial. “Not anymore.”

Vox Vineyardi: “This is a tyranny of the dog community.” – Gary Montrowl, West Tisbury, 2012

 

 

The “Jets, Okay. But Stoplights? Never!” award goes to:

Islanders went round and round on whether the roundabout would help or hurt the Vineyard lifestyle.
Ray Ewing

ROUNDABOUT.

It’s hard to count how many rounds Islanders went on the roundabout. For years, a four-way red light known as “the blinker” at the intersection of Barnes Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road caused traffic to back up mercilessly. The state proposed a roundabout and the Oak Bluffs selectmen, the MVC, and most Oak Bluffs citizens said, “Great.” The rest of the Island went berserk, passing non-binding resolutions and filing lawsuits. “We just don’t want it, it’s that simple,” said West Tisbury Selectman Richard Knabel, but in 2013 the roundabout opened, and suddenly going across the Island no longer constituted a day trip.

Vox Vineyardi: “Somebody please plant a mulberry bush in the middle of the roundabout. After so much bickering, I think it’s time to sing its praises.” – Gerry Yukevich, Vineyard Haven, 2013

 

 

The “How Could You Think About Changing Five Corners, It’s So Beautiful” award goes to:

Plans called for greatly expanding Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop to nearly the size of a full block.
Courtesy Stop & Shop

STOP & SHOP.

In 2013 Stop & Shop had an ambitious plan to rebuild its store at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. Perhaps a little too ambitious: the new store and garage would occupy nearly the entire block. Almost everyone agreed the store needed to expand. But critics claimed the proposal was too large and inappropriate for the location, and would create traffic problems in an already congested area. After nearly a year of sometimes fraught public hearings, an online petition, and ongoing negotiations with the town of Tisbury, Stop & Shop withdraw its application. Can you say Nobnocket?

Vox Vineyardi: “Following this drama and reading all of the comments posted online by the locals it is shocking that this Island has running water and electricity.”
– Online comment, 2013

 

The “If You Did That and Still Had the Gall to Double My Rates You Might Be
a Monopoly” award goes to:

A necessary electrical upgrade or an eyesore that is destroying the Island? You decide.
Ivy Ashe

JURASSIC POLES.

It was as if you awoke one morning and there were Sequoias in your front yard. In 2013, without advance notice, NStar (now Eversource) installed taller, wider poles along the length of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. The Tisbury selectmen held an emergency session and put the MVC on the case. “You’re single-handedly destroying the aesthetics of Martha’s Vineyard,” an Edgartown selectman chided company officials. In the end, the MVC claimed it had no jurisdiction over the project and the electric company’s needs prevailed over Island aesthetics.

Vox Vineyardi: “[They’re] turning Edgartown Road into Jurassic Park. It’s horrendous.”
– Michael Donaroma, Edgartown, 2013

 

The “Maybe the No Jets People Were onto Something After All” award goes to:

Nope, not the Hamptons. Large Vineyard homes like the one above prompted Chilmark to adopt a bylaw limiting home size.
Ray Ewing

SACK THE MCMANSIONS.

Trophy houses, starter castles – call them what you will, they’ve become  perennial lightning rods on the Island. What it comes down to is, how big is too big? Does someone really need a 20,000-square-foot house?

In 2013, after nearly a year of debate, Chilmark passed a bylaw limiting most newly constructed houses on three-acre lots to 3,500 square feet, the first bylaw of its kind on the Vineyard. The process was anything but smooth. One early meeting on the subject nearly ended in fisticuffs.

Comments (2)

jack
oak bluffs
great article! thoroughly enjoyed it. the stories i could tell about the mcdonald's campaign. very funny and sometimes a bit scary.
May 6, 2015 - 12:11am
Michele
Oak Bluffs
Gonna take a Sentimental Journey. A good insight into Islanders and the power of making an effort. Of note is the cigarette smoker in the Mac meeting. Thank goodness this has changed.
May 10, 2015 - 5:59pm