Martha's Vineyard Commission insists on hearing cash-for-lots change
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted to reconsider a controversial vote on an affordable housing lots-for-cash swap at last Thursday's meeting, but voted 10-3 to affirm their earlier decision that the proposal is a substantial change of permit conditions requiring a public hearing.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission scheduled a public hearing on the proposed offer for August 28.
"I'm really upset that accusations were made that the Martha's Vineyard Commission is interfering with the business of Edgartown," said commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury. "This is the business of the MVC. The notion that it's up to the affordable housing committee in Edgartown to decide is very wrongheaded. The offer is an offer to us, not the affordable housing committee."
The Field Club, developers of a 25-lot subdivision including an exclusive private recreational club, offered to pay $1.8 million to the town of Edgartown, instead of donating three undeveloped lots in the subdivision, as required by their original permit from the Martha's Vineyard Commission. The lots-for-cash swap has the support of the Edgartown affordable housing committee and the town selectmen. The commission's own land use planning committee voted unanimously to recommend acceptance of the offer. The full commission did not reject the lots-for-cash swap, but at a July 24 meeting, a 6-4 majority decided it was a substantial change in permit conditions, which requires a public hearing.
Edgartown intended to use the $1.8 million to purchase existing housing, or supplement purchases for families that qualify under income guidelines.
"As of August 1, we could have possibly had some housing under purchase and sales agreement," said Janet Hathaway, chairman of the affordable housing committee. "It's difficult to understand why we're even here," she told the commissioners at last Thursday's meeting.
Sharon Purdy, a real estate executive and a member of the affordable housing committee, said it is her understanding that the developers are under time pressure to resolve the affordable housing issue so they can complete sales of the market rate lots.
"It may well come to a point where we don't have the option," said Ms. Purdy.
Ms. Sibley cited the Martha's Vineyard Commission's affordable housing policy, which calls for developers to donate 10 percent of the proposed lots, or 20 percent of the current value of those lots. She stressed that it was the MVC process, not the merits of the offer, which should guide the decision.
"I like the idea of the money for the lots, in most ways," said Ms. Sibley. "But I think it's a big change. They may have a really good argument that they can house more people."
Christine Brown, who sits on both the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the Edgartown affordable housing committee, abstained from previous votes citing a possible conflict of interest. After consulting others, she said she did not believe there is a conflict and participated in the debate and vote at last week's meeting. She disagreed with Ms. Sibley's position, saying there was precedent for accepting money instead of lots, and that the commission's housing policy did not prevent the commission from judging the permit changes insignificant.
"It's not clear cut that we can't make this decision, that we can't take the responsibility for ourselves, without public input," Ms. Brown said.
Ms. Sibley said she was concerned that reversing the decision to hold a public hearing would send a harmful message. "It will be perceived that all you need to do to get us to change our mind is bash us in the newspapers. They'll think we'll blink."