West Tisbury selectmen hear possible affordable housing lot idea

A two-acre triangle off Old County Road is under consideration as a site for affordable housing.

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Michael Colaneri points out the property being eyed for affordable housing to selectmen Richard Knabel, left, and Skipper Manter as Jennifer Rand looks on. — Edie Prescott

West Tisbury selectmen met last Wednesday afternoon. Topping the agenda was a presentation by Michael Colaneri, vice chairman of the West Tisbury affordable housing committee, who asked selectmen what they thought about the use of a two-acre triangular sliver of town-owned land as a site for an affordable housing project.

The property, 21-2 on the assessor’s map as an easement off Old County Road, is located at the south end of the West Tisbury School property off Halcyon Way.

“We’ve been looking at all possibilities of properties where affordable housing can be considered,” Mr. Colaneri said. “We’re talking about this two-point-something remnant of a triangle down here in the corner. It is part of the school lot. Is it a good idea? Should we continue to pursue it?”

Selectmen went back and forth over the history of the property.

Mr. Colaneri wanted to know if selectmen thought the affordable housing committee should proceed down the “predevelopment” track. The board of selectmen, minus Cynthia Mitchell Wednesday, agreed to have the committee proceed with the feasibility work, with the understanding that if the project went forward, it would have to go before town meeting.

“It’s on the bus route, it’s right there in town, and there’s a bike path that abuts the back side,” Mr. Colaneri said.

“How does this affect the school?” asked selectman Richard Knabel. Mr. Knabel said he had spoken with town health agent John Powers, and that he said, “The questions it could pose are solvable.”

“There’s a variety of things that need to get looked into, none of them are automatically a no, but all of them are things the affordable housing committee would have to spend some time on if the board wanted them to,” Jennifer Rand, town administrator said.

“If anything were built there, it would probably be a duplex for rent,” Mr. Colaneri said.

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said he had no problem with allowing initial research to make sure nothing is prohibited.

“We do have monies for predevelopment; I think the next thing to do is to seek advice from town counsel to see if there are any legal impediments,” Mr. Colaneri said.

In a follow up conversation, Mr. Colaneri told The Times, “This is all preliminary and no decision has been made, or authorization given by anyone, to use this property for anything.”

In other business last week, Peter Temple was on hand to fill in for Paddy Moore, chairman of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Temple asked for the board’s support in naming the Island “an aging-friendly community.” Mr. Temple explained that this designation would help Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard in a number of ways: “It allows us to become part of the network where we can get access to information about what other communities are doing to address some problems, it gives us much greater access to grants — which would help us to do our work without having to ask any of the towns for money,” explained Mr. Temple.

A needs assessment and input from Island elders are required for application, but this has already been completed.

Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard is made up of over 35 organizations on the Island, including the towns, according to Mr. Temple. “It is a collaborative Island-wide,” Richard Knabel said.

Selectmen agreed to sign the letter for application.

In other news, Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), described an application to the Department of Housing and Community Development for a grant to prepare new housing production plans as part of an Island-wide initiative. The grant funds would be used to hire JM Goldson Associates, in partnership with RKG Associates, “as consultants to help produce the plans and conduct community presentations, visioning sessions, and other outreach efforts necessary to build local consensus on housing needs and production.”

The entire process is expected to take six months.

Massachusetts law requires that 10 percent of the housing in each town on the Island be affordable. “We struggle to get there,” Mr. Manter said of the state threshold. “Could we look at changing it so that the island has a 10 percent goal rather than a specific town? I don’t think any one town is going to get to 10 percent, but maybe across the globe, so to speak, may be a more achievable goal.”

Mr. Turner said in the first phase the consultants would go town by town.

“All suggestions will be filtered through and will need to be addressed,” said Mr. Turner.

Each town is being asked to contribute $15,000. The state is providing $90,000, and the MVC is providing $40,000.

“How many houses could be built for that?” Mr. Manter asked, followed by some laughter.

“I understand what you’re trying to do, but for [about] $140,000 when it’s said and done, and you haven’t put up a single housing unit, I just think the money could be better spent,” added Mr. Manter.

Mr. Manter made a motion for the chairman to sign the letter required for the town to get the money to do the housing study.