Talks aim at compromise on Bradley Square
With the stage set this past Thursday night for a climactic battle over the Bradley Square project before the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals (ZBA), Richard Leonard, chairman of the Island Housing Trust, announced that housing groups and opponents had agreed on a process to find common ground.
The Island Housing Trust and the Island Affordable Housing Fund, the principal developers of the project and the Oak Bluffs Concerned Citizens Committee (OBCCC), a recently formed group of citizens opposed to the project, plan to meet, possibly with the services of a mediator, to find modifications that can satisfy both sides. Ultimate agreement could hinge on the finances of the project and the willingness of opponents to help with any costs.
For now, the Bradley Square site will remain for sale, Mr. Leonard told The Martha's Vineyard Times Friday.
Against a backdrop of increasingly acrimonious statements from both sides, Mr. Leonard met with Don Lambert, leader of the concerned citizens committee in the days and even hours preceding the ZBA hearing to find some way to avoid a bitter fight. That effort proved to be successful.
More than 80 people, opponents and proponents, had crowded into a room in the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging for a re-opened public hearing on the project, when Mr. Leonard, representing the Island Housing Trust and the Island Affordable Housing Fund, asked the ZBA to adjourn the meeting and grant a 30-day hearing extension. The ZBA agreed to take no action that night and to extend the hearing, but went on to receive public comment.
Mr. Leonard told The Martha's Vineyard Times he was very pleased with the outcome of the Thursday night meeting.
"For whatever reason we were not in a good spot," said Mr. Leonard. "The reasons don't matter. What matters is that we have agreed to work together."
Mr. Leonard said the goal now is to see if there is a plan that is viable for both sides.
He said a sale remains one of several alternatives but it is not the preferred option.
"There is absolutely no desire to sell things," said Mr. Leonard, "but we do have to be responsible to our overall goal, and that is using our financial and staff resources to create housing. But we also want to do it in a thoughtful manner with the community."
Reading from a prepared statement Thursday night, in part Mr. Leonard said the following:
"Speaking on behalf of the Island Housing Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust, it has always been our mission to create housing that is affordable within the context of thoughtful community involvement.
"Throughout the 15-month process of planning Bradley Square there have been many public meetings toward that end. It is clear that there are some individuals in the community, now organized as the Oak Bluffs Concerned Citizen's Committee, who remain concerned about various aspects of the proposed project.
"Over the past several days, Don Lambert, chairman of the Oak Bluffs Concerned Citizens Committee, and I have had several conversations regarding this matter and our mutual desire to bring people together to discuss this project, in a civil and organized manner, with the goal of determining if there are viable modifications which can be made to the plan.
"Affordable Housing and the Oak Bluffs Concerned Citizens Committee have agreed to establish a joint committee whose membership shall be as fully representative of all appropriate constituencies as possible."
The OBCCC also posted an announcement on capawack.com. It said all the concerned parties had agreed to establish a joint committee to determine if viable modifications can be made to the Bradley Square plans to address the concerns voiced by many neighborhood residents. The OBCCC said, "We have high hopes that when we reopen this site by mid-October, we will be able to show Oak Bluffs and Martha's Vineyard what can be accomplished when two opposing parties decide to collaborate towards a common goal."
Phillipe Jordi, Island Housing Trust executive director, said the plan is to sit down with a professional facilitator and organize a series of meetings during which both sides will see if they can come up with a solution.
Asked what prompted the decision to seek mediation, Mr. Jordi said the housing coalition said from the beginning that they were open to discussions but that the opponents only recently formed an organized front.
The initial rancor that accompanied the opponents' objections created hard feelings, said Mr. Jordi, until Mr. Leonard stepped up and sat down with Don Lambert. "He did what was right as far as calling off the dogs and hopefully getting these guys on one page," said Mr. Jordi, who added that the final agreement was not signed until 3 pm on the day of the public hearing.
One condition required the opponents to remove accusations made against the housing leaders from their website. "We said all the rancor has to stop and if you can show us that then we are more then willing to sit down in good faith," said Mr. Jordi.
The task now is to find someone who can bring both sides together in fairly short order, but the outcome remains uncertain, Mr. Jordi said.
The big question is finances. "Sure, we can scale it back, but show us your money," said Mr. Jordi.
The surprise announcement asking for time to mediate a solution caught the zoning board members, and most people who came to testify at the public hearing by surprise this past Thursday evening. Housing advocates and the citizens committee each asked their supporters to postpone debate, but there were plenty of people eager to speak. Their tone, however, was decidedly conciliatory.
"I really appreciate the reasonable behavior," said Vera Shorter of Tisbury, who spoke in favor of the Bradley Square project. "We don't need to be calling names and putting things on websites that might not be true. We don't have to live in a world of warfare."
Ron Mechur, a former executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission who lives on Nashawena Park, near the proposed project, advocated scaling back the development.
"What happened here, is there are so many good intentions in one place, the place really can't absorb it," said Mr. Mechur. "There is so much good will in this room tonight, I can't see how we can't succeed."
Following more than an hour of comment from the public, the zoning board voted unanimously to continue the public hearing until October 23. The board expects a report on any changes to the project resulting from negotiation among the applicants and the citizens committee at that hearing. The board also voted to extend the time allowed for a decision until November 20.