Waiting for a home takes its toll
For many in the original group of eight Cozy Hearth members and their families, the opportunity to build a house in the development represented the last hope of owning a home on the Island before making the painful decision to leave.
Most of them, who were connected as co-workers, friends, and family, had to find alternatives and drop out of Cozy Hearth the longer it was delayed, including JT and Kelly Kershaw.
Mr. Kershaw, an electrician who worked for Bennett Electric, helped inspire Bill Bennett's idea for Cozy Hearth. Concerned about losing good employees like Mr. Kershaw who could not find affordable housing led Mr. Bennett to seek a creative solution to get them into homes of their own.
Mr. Kershaw and his wife, a Tisbury police officer, joined the Cozy Hearth group when their son Joseph was six months old. At age three and a half, attending Cozy Hearth public hearings with his parents became a regular pastime for the winsome redhead. The three of them lived in a two-bedroom cottage owned by Ms. Kershaw's grandparents.
"We just want to be regular family people with a decent house and a decent place to live," Ms. Kershaw remarked after one hearing.
In a phone call last week, she recalled that her family attended almost every meeting. Given hope by the Martha's Vineyard Commission's approval of the project, Ms. Kershaw said the Edgartown zoning board of appeals' decision to scale back the project in 2006 came as a huge letdown.
About a year and a half ago, she and her husband decided to drop out of the group and get on with their lives. Their second son, Mason, was born 13 months ago.
"I cannot imagine how Cozy Hearth would be affordable still - it wasn't affordable for us when we left," Ms. Kershaw said, referring to the increasing per-home costs caused by the project's delay and conditions added by the regulatory agencies.
"We were talking about moving off-Island. We felt that if we couldn't buy a house, we weren't going to be people who rent for their whole lives," she added. "We had put having Mason on hold, waiting for Cozy Hearth to go through."
After dropping out of Cozy Hearth, the Kershaws felt they had run out of options. "If you try to get affordable housing, not only is it luck of the draw with the lottery, but also if you make enough money to be able to afford a house, you make too much money to qualify to get the affordable piece of property," Ms. Kershaw pointed out.
The Kershaws took a family vacation to Florida, where they both are from, and visited different areas while actively looking for jobs and at homes.
However, by then son Mason was on the way, and the couple decided to stay and work on the Island until he was born. No longer working for Mr. Bennett, Mr. Kershaw took a job as a caretaker for a private estate, which included housing.
"We lucked out just in the nick of time," Ms. Kershaw said.
With their son Joseph now six and a half, she said she never imagined the regulatory process for Cozy Hearth would take so long.
"People were just trying to build a house," Ms. Kershaw said. "Nobody wanted to get rich quick, take advantage of the neighborhood, or anything like that."