Martha's Vineyard Commission green lights Bradley Square plan
By a vote of 13 to 1, the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) this past Thursday night approved the Bradley Square development project with relatively few conditions. Commissioner Chris Murphy of Chilmark cast the only dissenting vote.
The applicants in the joint project are The Island Housing Trust, The Island Affordable Housing Fund, and West Tisbury builder John Early. The project is planned for the corner of Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue in Oak Bluffs. It includes two market-rate and nine affordable housing units, as well as a community center and an office.
Martha's Vineyard Commission chairman Doug Sederholm of Chilmark echoed the sentiment of many commissioners when he said he was skeptical of the size of the development and the strain it would place on neighborhood parking, but he was swayed by the benefits of new affordable housing.
"If you weren't a non-profit, if you weren't totally dedicated to providing affordable housing, there's no way I would vote for this," said Mr. Sederholm. "I think this is a great burden on the neighborhood. It's at the edge of what I could approve, but it's on the right edge of it, and I will vote for it. It does provide a lot for the Island in terms of affordable housing, and that is our single greatest need. If we don't have affordable housing, we're not going to have a community. We'll have a lot of rich people. We can all go over to Nantucket if we want that."
Mr. Murphy objected to the scope of the project, and its impact on the neighborhood. "It's too big," he said. "I think we have not listened sufficiently to the neighborhood. I think it has too big an impact, both in parking and traffic. Reduce the number of units, the massing of the buildings, and create more parking on site."
Donald Muckerheide, a property owner who objects to the development, criticized the commission's decision. "I give Chris credit for standing up," said Mr. Muckerheide. "They're [the MVC] not doing regional planning, they're meddling."
Commissioner Richard Toole of Oak Bluffs offered strong support for the project and strong opinions on the parking issues.
"This building will meet a lot of needs," said Mr. Toole. "The idea of designing buildings around the automobile has got to stop. You can't deny a development that makes sense in every way except, perhaps the impact of automobiles."
"It's a big step," said Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust. "Fundraising is going to be really key, we have quite a bit to do this summer."
Backers of the project have committed to raising $1.7 million to subsidize the $5.1 million development.
The commissioners approved five conditions on the project, including a limit on the number of large events at the community center. Under the conditions of the approval, activities involving more than 30 people would be restricted to three per week. Those events would also be limited to non-profit educational, cultural, and religious purposes.
Another condition covers construction of sidewalks. The town of Oak Bluffs has proposed constructing sidewalks along Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue. In their proposal, the applicants said if the town did not build the sidewalks, they would build them at their own expense on the development property. This would creating six new on-street parking spaces. Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury objected to the offer. "I have a problem with sidewalks that go from nowhere to nowhere," said Ms. Sibley. The commissioners approved a condition that requires the developers to return to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for permission to build any impervious or hard surface sidewalks in the future."
Other conditions allow residents to sub-let on-site parking spaces they do not use, but only with the approval of a condominium association. The conditions allow use of the office space from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm, seven days per week.
The Bradley Square development was the subject of three emotional public hearings, which exposed underlying friction in the neighborhood among long time residents, and newer arts oriented businesses. The site is made up of two parcels, totaling just less than a half acre. The plan calls for the dilapidated Denniston building now on the site to be moved and rehabilitated. The building once housed Bradley Memorial Church, the first primarily African-American church on the Vineyard. It was also the home of the late Rev. Oscar K. Denniston, a prominent and respected local minister. The second floor of the rehabilitated building would house one affordable unit, the first floor would house a community center and a small office. Two additional buildings would be constructed, each housing one market rate, and four affordable rate units. The nine affordable housing units would go to buyers who qualify based on income, at prices ranging from $150,000 to $325,000. Four of the affordable units would be designed as studio spaces where artists might live and work, as well as display and sell their creations. All of the affordable units would be awarded by lottery, with Oak Bluffs residents given preference for the four artists live/work spaces.
The Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals will review the project next.