West Tisbury ZBA approves special permits for Habitat project


West Tisbury’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) has unanimously approved requests from Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard for special permits to build affordable houses on lots considered nonconforming.

The ZBA action on October 14 was required because each lot is less than three acres, as required by the residential zoning rules. The ZBA also approved setback relief to allow construction of one home at a spot on its lot that is about two feet closer to the neighboring lot’s boundary than the 25 feet required by town by-laws.

Habitat plans to build one single family affordable house a year for three years at the end of Bailey Park Road. The first house will be a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch of 1,344-square feet on a 1.6-acre parcel. Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank donated both the building and the money to move it from its location at 490 State Road. The other two houses will be similar in design to those completed at 250 State Road: one is a three-bedroom, two-bath Cape Cod design of 1,450-square feet on a .93-acre lot; the other is a two-bedroom, one-bath or one-and-a-half bath Cape of 1,254-square feet, on a .89-acre lot.

The homes will range in price from $172,500 for the two-bedroom to $202,000 for the three-bedroom houses.

Habitat plans to sell each house to a family of four with income of 80 percent or less of the Dukes County Area Median income, which is currently $65,900 for a family of four, according to Dukes County Regional Housing Authority data. In each case, Habitat will convey the land to the Island Housing Trust, which will lease the land to the homeowner to guarantee perpetual affordability.

The ZBA meeting began with a public hearing. Andre Mallegol, a vice president of the Habitat directors and co-chairman of the Habitat building committee, said that Habitat finances each project itself and holds the zero percent interest mortgages for 20 years.

J.C. Murphy of 71 Vineyard Meadows Farm, an Island real estate developer, questioned the financing of the home ownership arrangement. Mr. Murphy told The Times that he would prefer that affordable housing units be rented rather than sold. Under Mr. Murphy’s plan, a renter would make monthly payments to the mortgage holder, in this case Habitat, and after seven years would be required to move out. At the end of seven years, the renter would be refunded a sizeable portion of his monthly rental payments, perhaps $60,000 to $70,000, that would provide a down payment for the conventional purchase of a home.

“We want skilled people with an education and ambition to come down here to live on the Island — not deadbeats, which is what you are going to get,” Mr. Murphy said. He also said that the Habitat arrangement “while generous, does not build any real equity or appreciation.”

ZBA chairman Roger (“Tucker”) Hubbell said that the purpose of the ZBA meeting was to approve the recent action of the planning board that unanimously voted to approve the project.

Scott Stearns of 33 Bailey Park Road said that he was in favor of the project but just wanted to understand the construction schedule. Mr. Mallegol said that Habitat is committed to building a house a year.

“If we have sufficient funds and volunteer volume we will get it done sooner,” he said. Although the donated building is an existing structure, Mr. Mallegol said that it requires a lot of work to meet the energy-efficiency standards set for the project.

Mr. Hubbell closed the public hearing and convened the zoning board’s meeting. The members discussed town concerns regarding a sand pit located on the properties. Town affordable housing committee member Michael Colaneri said that the pit would be filled and nothing would be built on that land.

The ZBA members then voted quickly and unanimously to approve each parcel’s special zoning permit, as well as the setback relief needed for one parcel.

After the meeting, Neal Sullivan, Habitat executive director, said, “Habitat appreciates the outpouring of support we have received both from the ZBA and the planning board.”

The Bailey Park project has been in the works since 2007, when the town acquired these three lots through tax title foreclosure proceedings.

Referring to the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” in which George Bailey gets a second chance, Mr. Sullivan said, “We are very hopeful. This project provides a brand new day for us and people on Martha’s Vineyard who need and deserve affordable housing.”