Design meeting explores Water Street affordable housing options

The Island Housing Trust has invited the public to discuss design ideas for affordable rental housing at 6 Water Street in Vineyard Haven, the site of a dilapidated house adjacent to the Stop and Shop.. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Armed with yellow sticky notes and a lot of ideas, affordable housing leaders, town and regional planners, and architects brainstormed last week about possible design options for new rental housing at 6 Water Street.

They agreed the biggest question is whether or not the site should include parking for tenants, given its location in the bustling commercial area near the busy Five Corners intersection.

The Island Housing Trust (IHT) hosted a meeting on May 13 to invite public comment before a final design is selected for the property, which includes a dilapidated house located between Stop and Shop supermarket and A-A Island Auto Rental, near the busy Five Corners intersection.

Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier purchased the property and donated it to IHT a year ago, with the understanding it would be used for affordable housing. Mr. Bernier said he bought the property to thwart plans announced in the spring of 2011 by Stop & Shop Supermarket Company to expand its Vineyard Haven store.

In opening the meeting, IHT executive director Philippe Jordi said IHT put out a request for proposal (RFP) for the housing design about two months ago. The applicants were narrowed down to three, architects James Weisman of Terrain Associates in Vineyard Haven and Dudley Cannada of Edgartown, and a building/design team that includes general contractor Farley Pedler of DrewsCove Builders in Chilmark and architect David Berner.

Mr. Weisman, Mr. Pedler, and Mr. Berner were among about a dozen people that attended the meeting. Stop & Shop representatives William O’Brien of Viceroy Development Association and Attorney Geoghan Coogan, Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault, and several IHT staff and board members also were there. Mary Ellen Larsen, a member of Tisbury’s Finance and Advisory Committee, was there as an interested community member.

“The idea, really, is that these three teams are going to be working to come up with some designs for us, and we’re going to be looking at those and trying to move forward with one of them,” Mr. Jordi said. “What we want to do today is really start looking at and answering some questions so these teams can have more information to work with, and the public can also provide their comments, their concerns, and their ideas as far as uses, as well.”

Mr. Jordi said the lot is approximately 5,200 square feet. The two-story house on the property was built in the 1930s and will be torn down once IHT has final plans and permits in place.

IHT specified in the RFP that the new building would include at least four one-bedroom townhouses, each with a minimum of 800 square feet of living space, and parking for each unit.

IHT board member Cheryl Doble, a Tisbury resident who taught landscape architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University, facilitated the hour and 45-minute long meeting.

She asked the audience to jot down their thoughts about affordable housing and the site on yellow sticky notes, which she sorted and put up on poster boards under the headings of concerns, opportunities, and programming.

Parking headed up the list of concerns. Mr. Jordi said some members of the Tisbury Planning Board thought that off-site parking would be more desirable, because it would reduce the project’s impact on an already heavily congested traffic area.

Mr. Vigneault disagreed. “It might be our goal is for folks with jobs in town to be living there and walking, but the absence of parking is a detriment in many people’s minds,” he said. “I would say it’s impractical to ask someone with a mobility impairment, for example, to go across the street for a van pickup or down the street to catch a bus.”

Mr. Weisman, who has already submitted his design proposal, said he decided against including a parking lot because it became such a limiting factor on the design, especially the number of units.

Several people were concerned about the 100-year flood projections for Water Street and how high the new building would have to be elevated above sea level. Mr. O’Brien said he was told by town officials the Stop & Shop building would have to be six feet above sea level. Mr. London questioned whether that number should be increased, to take climate change into consideration. He said that new sea level rise projections that will be available in mid or late June might be helpful.

Other concerns were noise and quality of life for residents near Five Corners.

“I think one thing we have to recognize is that this property was given to the housing trust by someone who wanted to prevent a larger store as a competitor, and I think the housing trust has created an opportunity to amplify mixed use in Vineyard Haven by suggesting that this be residential,” Mr. Weisman said. “So it creates the conundrum of how do you create residential in an urban or a town area?”

In discussion about the number of housing units and building style, Mr. Jordi noted that the state usually awards affordable housing funds to projects with five or more units.

“We want to utilize the property as best we can, to make as many units as we can, with quality living space,” Richard Leonard, IHT chairman of the board, said.

Mr. London suggested that the new building be designed to fit in with the architecture of other buildings in the historic town center of Vineyard Haven, which all have gabled roofs. Despite the current appearance of the old house now on the property, Mr. London said he finds it “a charming building,” with “picturesque decrepitude.”

The architects’ design proposals are due by July 15.

“After the three proposals are submitted, maybe we’ll do something at the site, put the different designs up and solicit the general public’s input to make it a fun, interactive process,” Mr. Jordi said in a follow-up phone conversation with The Times last week. “Ultimately the Island Housing Trust board will make the choice, but it would be good if people could provide us with ideas.”