IHT presents site and building plans for affordable apartments

Although designs for the 20-unit complex received favorable comment, nearby residents reiterated concerns about density and water quality.

The proposed development at Kuehn's is off of State Road near Deer Hill Road. — Island Housing Trust

The Island Housing Trust (IHT) unveiled site and building plans at a meeting Tuesday night for a proposed 20-apartment affordable housing complex off State Road in Tisbury. The presentation, held in Tisbury’s Emergency Services Facility community room, offered a first look at the plans.

It was the first detailed look following two public information meetings IHT held after purchasing the property in September. About 60 people attended the meeting.

The project, named Kuehn’s Way, is sited on 5.9 acres fronting State Road, part of a 14.8-acre property at State and Deer Hill roads that was to be the site of an earlier affordable housing project, Bridge Commons, which never came to fruition. IHT would build the project under the terms of Chapter 40B, which provides some freedom from local zoning regulations in exchange for providing affordable housing.

IHT purchased the property in September for $1.2 million from Boston Community Capital, through negotiations that included the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. At the time of the purchase, IHT then sold the Land Bank an exclusive-use easement for 8.9 acres at the back of the property for $600,000. The easement entitles the Land Bank to use the property as if it owns it, and also allows IHT to use the parcel for septic and wells for the Kuehn’s Way project, provided the land is restored to a natural state.

IHT board of directors member Doug Ruskin said the design/build team of LDa Architects and Williams Building Co. was selected through a public process. The IHT development team and LDa design team held a public information meeting on April 25, at which time they took questions from the audience, the majority of them from the Deer Hill Road neighborhood.

“A number of concerns rose to the top; density, water, and septic issues, project size, noise and light intrusion issues, and several others,” Mr. Ruskin said.

Over the past several weeks, the design team and IHT board reviewed those issues and designed the project with those issues in mind, he said. This week, they met with the town’s police, fire, public works, water, health, and building departments, as well as the town administrator, to discuss the proposed site and building plans.

“But I want to remind everybody that we’re in the Island affordable housing business; we’re a nonprofit organization, and we’re here to provide housing to the Island,” Mr. Ruskin said.

“So as a result, what you’re about to see is a reduction from the original plan, but not as significant as some would have desired,” he added. “A lot of thought went into the site design; the plan mitigates density by being as minimally intrusive as possible, and addresses in detail all the issues involved.”

Project details

IHT project manager Derrill Bazzy provided the details in a 45-minute slide presentation, which he said would be followed by a question and answer period. He emphasized several times during his presentation that everyone would have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and voice opinions in hearings that will be held during the permitting process, as well.

Plans call for 10 paired one- and one-and-a-half-story duplex buildings, to include two apartments each, on a building envelope of four acres, Mr. Bazzy explained. The complex includes three one-bedroom,14 two-bedroom, and three three-bedroom units. The buildings will be clustered in five groups of four apartments each, for a total of 20 apartments with 40 bedrooms. That is two apartments and nine bedrooms less than proposed for the previous Bridge Commons project.

A single driveway provides access from State Road through the middle of the property, with 30 parking spaces for residents and five for guests. The entire complex will be handicapped-accessible.

“We tried to keep everything as far away as possible from the surrounding neighborhoods, at 120 to 160 feet from State Road, and with 50-foot no-cut zones,” Mr. Bazzy said.

Four onsite private wells will provide domestic water, with a 20,000-gallon cistern on the property for firefighting needs. An enhanced septic system, with two leaching fields, will include a Bioclere wastewater treatment system, Mr. Bazzy said. It is reported to reduce nitrogen in the effluent to 41 percent below that of a standard Title V septic system.

There are 10 to 12 test wells on site to monitor groundwater, Mr. Bazzy noted. He added that engineers for the project, Kent Healy and Reid Silva of Vineyard Land Surveying and Engineering, said there would not be an impact on neighboring wells.

The apartments will be 100 percent rental units for tenants earning from $28,000 to $67,000 annually, depending on household size. The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA) currently has a rental housing waitlist of 73 Tisbury households out of a total of 237 individuals and families Island-wide.

DCRHA will manage the apartments. The agency’s policies have a limit of two persons per bedroom, one registered, insured, and inspected vehicle per tenant, one pet that may not be left chained or tied outside.

The site is zoned R50,which according to the town’s zoning bylaws requires a minimum lot size of 50,000 square feet, or 1.25 acres, a minimum frontage of 150 feet, and a minimum lot depth of 150 feet. The 14.8-acre parcel would have allowed a subdivision of as many as 11 lots, each 1.2 acres in size, with five bedrooms each, according to a handout provided by IHT.

The entire Kuehn’s Way project cost is estimated at $6.3 million, according to the IHT handout. Six Island towns have already contributed a total of $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funds. Reducing the project’s size would increase the per-unit costs beyond the state funding limits, according to Mr. Jordi, and make the project financially unfeasible.

Kuehn’s Way is named in memory of Robert (Bob) Kuehn, who helped create the state’s Community Preservation Act. He was a founding member of the Island Affordable Housing Development Corporation in 2001, and served on the IHT board of directors for several years until his death in 2006.

Mixed reviews

Reactions to the site and building plans were mixed, with some audience members, particularly Deer Hill Road residents, saying the project is still too dense, and others saying it is not big enough.

“I think you actually did listen to some of the things that were said a month ago,” Barney Zeitz, a Deer Hill Road resident, said. “But the numbers are still pretty high. So maybe if you wouldn’t mind, knock off the outside of each one, so it would be 15 instead of 20, and the buildings wouldn’t stick out as much. It really was very thoughtfully looked at. I have to give you some credit; however, the numbers didn’t go down very much.”

Keith McGuire, a Tisbury resident, disagreed: “I’m kind of surprised you keep bringing the number of houses down from what was already permitted,” he said. “Why are you backtracking? It’s very rare we can find land on this Island that’s affordable for some type of affordable housing.

“Land is just getting more and more expensive; there are going to be less and less opportunities, and the next generation is going to be gone before we have 100 houses,” he added. “You’re only going to have 20 units. We’re going to lose an entire generation if we don’t have hundreds of affordable houses.”

Several Deer Hill Road residents said the possible effects of septic runoff on their well water is their major concern.

“What you’re talking about is consolidating 15 acres’ worth of homes on a five-acre parcel, which is going to form, for our concern, a sewage plume,” Robert Dias said. “There were studies done when Bridge was proposing this thing that undoubtedly point to it affecting the town aquifer and all of our wells, and it goes right for the lagoon.”

“It is a big deal, and it is concentrated,” he added. “Scratch the nitrogen out of the picture; what about fertilizers? What about road runoff? What about household chemicals? Is that going to eliminate that? I’m going to be drinking that. That’s going to be going into the lagoon.”

Mr. Dias questioned why the town would allow IHT to build such a dense project in light of the R50 zoning.

“We obviously have to comply with health regulations, we have to comply with the commission, we have to comply with the town,” Mr. Ruskin told him. “So we’re not going to do anything that’s going to poison anybody or do harm. And if the findings are that this is too dense for that reason, we’re going to have to address it.”

Bridge from the past

Bridge Commons, the previous Chapter 40B affordable housing project proposed for the 15-acre property, included 22 homes in 11 two-family buildings. The Bridge Housing Corporation (BHC), a nonprofit formed by representatives of several Island religious organizations, secured a loan for nearly $1.7 million to purchase the property in 2002 from Boston Community Capital, and then launched an initiative to build Bridge Commons.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved the project in 2003, and the Tisbury zoning board of appeals gave its nod in 2004. And BHC prevailed in court when neighbors brought suit. But the long permitting battle took its toll.

In 2009 the BHC board decided to put the property on the market because the project had run out of financial resources and they could not repay the site-purchase loan. The land went into foreclosure and was bought by Boston Community Capital.