Concern but no consensus on All-Island Planning Board

Housing production plan provides extensive data but gets limited buy-in from housing officials.

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Tisbury planning board chairman Dan Seidman and administrative assistant Pat Harris. —Barry Stringfellow

The All-Island Planning Board (AIPB) met last week in Tisbury to discuss the draft housing production plans (HPP) recently delivered to the board of selectmen in each town by Roslindale-based consulting firm JM Goldson.

Members of the AIPB unanimously agreed that the data culled in the eight-month process could be a helpful tool in the campaign to create more housing on Martha’s Vineyard. But endorsement of the consultant’s recommendations for each town was lukewarm, and there was no consensus on how those data could be best put to use.

The stated objective of the HPP is to guide each town to creating an “affordable housing” inventory of 10 percent of total housing by 2036.

Although there have been discussions about increasing the “affordable” benchmark from 80 percent of area median income (AMI) to 150 percent of AMI, there is no consensus at the AIPB on the definition of “affordable.”

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Chilmark planning board member Peter Cook said. “The [HPP] may not match with Chilmark’s trajectory 100 percent, but it has a tremendous amount of information. Our job is to figure out how to best use it.”

Mr. Cook described the vision statement in the HPP as “boilerplate.”

“With any luck we’ll come up with a vision statement further down the process that reflects the reality more,” he said.

He said deciding who should benefit from the HPP housing is a key decision yet to be made. “In Chilmark, you have the issue of fair housing and local preference, and you have to come to terms with that,” he said. “With agreement on that, specific objections may not become as significant.”

Mr. Cook said that he didn’t think Chilmark was “sanguine” about the housing inventory goals proposed in the HPP.

“We agree it’s a comprehensive document, but we’re not prepared to commit to the points that it outlines,” Oak Bluffs planning board member Ewell Hopkins said. “We can’t get behind this document as it is now. Different people had different objections. In my opinion, the production goal is far too high for the political will that we have in our community.”

Peter Temple, chairman of the Aquinnah planning board, said there was agreement by town officials on specific housing goals, and he encouraged each town to finish changes by the end of the week so the consultants could complete the final draft. “We know not all the towns will be in agreement on what it is that will work for them, but it is an opportunity to at least get as much change as possible by the consultants,” he said.

Aquinnah is the only Island town that has reached the 10 percent affordable housing goal. The majority of that inventory is Wampanoag tribal housing.

Lucy Morrison, assistant to the Edgartown planning board, said the board was not keen on sending comments to the consultants. “We made some changes to the mission statement, but it didn’t seem to represent a vibrant year-round community,” she said. “It just talked about our waterfront views, and what town doesn’t have waterfront views?” Ms. Morrison said the board also questioned the feasibility of the HPP recommendations for creating regional housing.

Tisbury planning board chairman Dan Seidman, who ran the meeting, said HPP discussions with Tisbury town selectmen had not been fruitful. “We didn’t get any consensus,” he said.

Mr. Seidman advocated zoning flexibility. “Say you could buy a piece of property and you have six people who want to go in on it, I don’t know that you can do that. Which is silly.”

Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson advocated renovating existing properties as opposed to new construction, and noted that the consultants had questioned its cost-effectiveness. He gave the example of renovating a three-bedroom house at a cost of $100,000 — $33,000 a bedroom, as opposed to the six affordable apartments at Water Street, which totaled $226,000 a bedroom.

“There’s something satisfying about buying back some of our families’ houses, already built, and in a sense, integrating the community back into itself,” he said. “That’s where the housing bank [has] the ability to be a market player, buying this real estate when it becomes available like the Land Bank does with land, and not seeing it become seasonal rentals.”

Mr. Seidman endorsed the idea. “We can’t reach 10 percent building new construction; that’s just chasing our tail.”

Mr. Hopkins said Oak Bluffs was more focused on making the town more attractive for private developers.

“Do you really think that’s going to work?” Mr. Robinson said.

West Tisbury planning board chairman Ginny Jones endorsed Mr. Robinson’s focus on renovating existing properties. “Over and over, we see the same houses, all over the Vineyard, lying there fallow, which could be fixed up for affordable housing.”

Summing up, Mr. Seidman said, “If we do nothing, it’s not that the Island’s going to end, it just means that the Island is going to be a lot more like Nantucket. And everybody’s going to come over on the boat.”

“The discussion has just begun,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Adam Turner said. “It’s always been a question of what each town wanted to do. Those discussions are not easy, and they’re not quick. I’m optimistic. What I’ve heard is, ‘We will do a lot of these things, but we just got [the HPP].’ I haven’t heard anyone say they’re not willing to work on housing.”

“I appreciate Adam’s optimism, but I don’t share it,” Mr. Hopkins said. “I have seen no large-scale commitment to mitigating the housing crisis anywhere on the Island.”