Chilmark dedicates Middle Line Road affordable housing complex

New town house tenants Aretha Brown with Fionna Brown (left) and Jeannette Vanderhoop, fiance Antone Dias and baby Oceana Dias inspected their new homes Saturday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Chilmark held an open house Saturday at the town’s new Middle Line Road affordable housing complex, complete with brief speeches and festive balloons.

The festivities marked the completion of a multi-million dollar project composed of three duplex apartment buildings and six one-acre home sites on 21 acres of town-owned land off Tabor House Road; the project was many years in the making.

Aretha Brown stood on the porch of her new Chilmark home Saturday morning, so happy she could hardly stand it.

Ms. Brown, a lottery winner of a two-bedroom townhouse rental, had several reasons to be joyful. “I was born and raised on this Island and I’ve never had a year-round home of my own until today,” she said, jiggling her 11-month old daughter Fionna.

“And my neighbor is Jannette Vanderhoop. We played together as kids in Aquinnah and now our kids will get to play together,” she said Saturday morning. “It’s all so amazing, just wonderful, and it all happened because I saw an ad in the newspaper.”

Across the common lawn, Chilmark selectmen Warren Doty handed the keys to the six rental units to Terri Keech, an administrator with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, in advance of move-in day on Tuesday, Nov. 1. The rental authority will administer the units under a contract with the town.

New rental tenants on hand included Jennifer Neary, Rick Glassberg, Steve and Stacia Broderick, and Seth and Sarah Karlinsky.

The 21-acre complex also includes six homesites, on which five completed homes stand. Homeowners include: Jeff and Emily Day, Michele and Chip Leonardi, Cameron Perry, Jennifer Slossberg, Lev and Jen Wlodyka. The sixth home site was awarded to Matt Bradley. His home construction has been delayed by Mr. Bradley’s current military deployment in Afghanistan, Mr. Doty noted.

About three dozen tenants, kids, town officials, family, and well-wishers crowded into a vacant unit for a brief ceremony that had the tone of a block party.

Selectman Doty thanked Selectmen Frank Fenner and zoning board of appeals committee member Frank LoRusso, and administrator Chuck Hodgkinson as point people and day-to-day overseers. He also thanked Chilmark resident David Handlin, whose Handlin, Garrahan, Zachos and associates architectural firm did much of the design on a pro bono basis, and general contractor Seaver Construction Co. of Woburn.

The town will retain ownership of the home site land with long-term ground lease contracts with the homeowners, structured so that the homes will remain in the affordable housing pool in the future.

Minimum rents for a one-year lease now range from $812 a month for a one-bedroom townhouse based on income of 65 per cent of Dukes County average median income (AMI) to $1,312 for a three bedroom unit based on 70 per cent (AMI), housing administrator Todd Christy said. “Some rents, particularly for one bedroom units are close to market price of $912 a month,” Mr. Christy told The Times.

He noted that affordability is not just a function of income and takes into account other financial considerations. “We’ve seen candidates who meet the income requirements but can’t afford the rent because of other financial obligations,” he said.

With all six rentals occupied and five houses constructed and occupied, the town will focus on finishing touches. “The next six months will be tweaking the new construction issues that always arise and solving service issues with Comcast,” he said.

Comcast has balked at running cable lines 4,500 feet from Tabor House road to the home sites for less than $31,000, so Dish TV and a patchwork of cell-phone boosters are residents’ only choice for phone and internet service, according to Mr. Christy.

“With 11 occupied residences and three other neighbors already in place, we should now satisfy their density requirements for providing cable service,” he said. “A distributed antennae system (DAS) tower will be in place in January so that should also improve things.”

Completion of the complex followed a seven-year “often tortured” process, as long-time housing board member Andy Goldman put it on Saturday. The project began in September 2004 with approval of a $45,000 feasibility study of 21 acres of heavily wooded town-owned land located about a half-mile down Middle Line Road, a dirt road that intersects with Tabor House Road just north of the town landfill.

The project’s total cost is estimated at $3,516,000, including $2,000,000 in voter-approved final funding along with earlier approved project costs and more than $600,000 in state funding, including matching CPA funds.

The approval process included a debate over all rental or partial rental, town meeting votes, multiple trips to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, a costly archaeological dig or two, several versions of design plans and a long process of creating language that would ensure the houses remain in the affordable housing pool in perpetuity.

“Throughout the process, the people of Chilmark never wavered. They have supported this project every time. They wanted this project,” Mr. Goldman said.

Following the conclusion of the ceremony, Mr. Fenner watched as clumps of excited people peeled off to their new homes, “Look at all these families. This all worked out just fine,” he said.