Judge Backs MVC in Robinson Case
Superior Court Says Decision to Deny Expansion for Hotel, Racquet Club Was Reasonable, Not Arbitrary
By JULIA WELLS
A superior court judge ruled yesterday that the Martha's Vineyard Commission did not stray outside the lines of its authority when it rejected an expansion plan for Jack E. Robinson Sr.'s bed and breakfast on New York avenue in Oak Bluffs last year.
"It is apparent that the commission's decision has a rational basis . . . its determination that the probable benefit of the proposed development would not exceed the probable detriment is well-grounded in the facts . . . and not arbitrary and capricious," wrote the Hon. Judith Fabricant, an associate justice of the superior court.
Mr. Robinson had appealed to Dukes County Superior Court the commission's denial of a proposed 10-room expansion to his inn and tennis center in an eclectic neighborhood on the outskirts of Oak Bluffs. The commission reviewed the project as a development of regional impact in the summer of 2005. Mr. Robinson's inn is named the Martha's Vineyard Resort and Racquet Club.
A jury-waived trial was held before Judge Fabricant in the Edgartown courthouse early this month, at the outset of the fall sitting of superior court.
At trial, Mr. Robinson's attorney argued that the commission's decision was arbitrary and unsupported by the evidence. Attorneys for the commission said the proposed expansion was not appropriate for the neighborhood.
The case marked only the second time in the history of the commission that an appeal of a commission decision went to a complete trial. No decision by the regional planning agency has ever been overturned on the merits.
In the 14-page ruling issued yesterday, Judge Fabricant kept that record intact by siding squarely with the commission; among other things, she took special note of the town master plan and the regional Island plan. She wrote that Mr. Robinson's expansion plan ran counter to the goals of both.
"Both these plans reflect determinations that commercial growth should be limited to established business areas, so as to maintain and promote the viability of the business areas, while maintaining the character of residential neighborhoods," the judge wrote in part.
"Approval of the plaintiff's plan would have moved in exactly the opposite direction, drawing business and activity away from the downtown commercial center out to a residential neighborhood, with adverse effects on both areas," she also wrote.
Judge Fabricant concluded: "Although other businesses exist in the plaintiff's area, none approaches the size or scale of the plaintiff's proposal . . . The commission's decision not to add this large-scale project to the pre-existing commercial uses in this residential neighborhood was entirely reasonable."
Judge Fabricant visited the site after the trial concluded and before issuing her decision.
Mr. Robinson, a former head of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, has filed more than one expansion plan for his inn over the last two years. In 2004, the commission denied a 19-room expansion plan.
Last fall, Mr. Robinson filed a separate complaint against the commission with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the state agency that enforces the commonwealth's anti-discrimination laws, claiming that racism played a role in the commission's denials of his plans. The discrimination complaint is still under investigation by the state commission.