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Big House Alphabet Soup: DRI or DCPC?

VCS supports efforts by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) to use its powers to bring additional review before construction of very large single-family homes, aka high-impact residential development. The MVC is currently considering adding house size to its checklist for what triggers review under its own Development of Regional Impact authority. It has been suggested (see the Vineyard Gazette) that instead of bringing this additional review at the Island-wide MVC level, individual towns should instead use the powers of the MVC to create Districts of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) to perform the additional review at the town level.

It is worth mentioning that VCS has previously suggested pursuing the DCPC route to address high impact development. Eight years ago, we looked at the DCPC power and proposed that Island leaders nominate an Island-wide “Scale of Structures” DCPC.

Why use the DCPC power? The specific big house impacts that are most concerning – habitat fragmentation, topographic alteration, nitrogen generation, water use, energy use, visual intrusion, light pollution, waste production, open space encroachment, scale in neighborhood context, footprint size – are simply outside the powers of local boards to regulate. Such boards are limited by zoning law to regulating within the narrow definition of “health, safety and general welfare”.

But with the DCPC power, the MVC can draft “trans-zoning” regulations to address the big house impacts, and towns, at town meeting, can then vote to incorporate the more powerful regulations into their zoning bylaws as special “overlay districts”. They can also vote to reject such rules.

So perhaps the big house DCPCs day has arrived. The challenge now is for the towns to step up, make the nomination to the MVC, and get the process started.