Kerry Scott challenges Bradley Square
At Tuesday night's selectmen's meeting, Oak Bluffs selectman Kerry Scott announced that in her view the public process had not been fulfilled for the Bradley Square affordable housing project. She implored her board colleagues to hold a public hearing. "This neighborhood deserves the right to speak to their selectmen," said Ms. Scott. "That's our obligation."
Ms. Scott's push for a hearing on a project that has been the subject of countless meetings came two days before tonight's special town meeting where voters will be asked to rescind part of the public funding for the project. And it followed a presentation to the selectmen by the project organizers who outlined design changes in the plan that followed a mediated compromise reached recently with a committee representing the Dukes County Avenue neighborhood where the project is planned. That compromise resulted in smaller buildings, more parking, and the deletion of one planned affordable unit.
Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, said they presented their plans to selectmen before. He said they submitted a complete project plan for the selectmen's review on February 15, 2008 when Ms. Scott was chairman of the board.
On February 19, Mr. Jordi was among several project backers who appeared before selectmen and outlined the Bradley Square project in detail. The board unanimously voted their support for the project, and signed the application, known as a "local initiative program 40-B project," which was submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in March 2008.
"Had I known then what I know now, I would never have signed," said Ms. Scott. "I granted the request of my colleague Ron DiOrio and I listened to Philippe Jordi. I misunderstood what my obligation was. We did not do this right. Because I was chairman of the board at that time, and because I signed it, I will apologize publically. The selectmen have a specific role. We did not do any of those things. This is the first time it has been shown to us. We haven't ever seen it."
But housing advocates behind the long disputed project say they have followed the permitting process to the letter, and say it is the same procedure they followed with five similar Island affordable housing projects, including the Twin Oaks development in Oak Bluffs. They were baffled at Ms. Scott's statements.
In a heated exchange, Mr. DiOrio disputed Ms. Scott's contention that selectmen have not followed the proper process.
"You know of course, that we did not handle ourselves well," said Ms. Scott.
"That's your opinion," responded Mr. DiOrio, repeatedly.
"That's not my opinion," said Ms. Scott. "I will not let you characterize it. It is not opinion."
At that point, selectman Roger Wey interjected in a heated tone. "You let her speak, then you speak over it," said Mr. Wey, directly to Mr. DiOrio." "Let her speak."
Mr. DiOrio disputed Mr. Wey's contention, then yielded the floor again to Ms. Scott.
"I do not feel," said Ms. Scott, "we have handled the process the way it was laid out by the Department of Housing and Community Development. I base that on five conversations I have had with staff there."
But a spokesman for the state agency told The Martha's Vineyard Times in a phone conversation Wednesday, that the agency is completely satisfied that all aspects of their process were followed correctly.
"We received an application signed by the chairman of the board of selectmen," said DHCD spokesman Phil Heiler. "We reviewed the project, that's part of the process, and sent a letter of approval. There may be some rumblings, but typically this is a local matter." He said the selectmen have no obligation to hold a public hearing. In reviewing the application, DHCD procedure is to open a two month period for comment from the public. According to Mr. Jordi, neither Ms. Scott nor any other selectman, relayed any concerns to the state agency during the public comment period. The applicants received DHCD approval in the form of a site eligibility letter in May of this year.
In a phone interview yesterday, Richard Leonard, chairman of the Housing Trust board of directors, insisted that the applicants had followed the correct permitting procedures.
"The Island Housing trust followed the DHCD local initiative program guidelines for local initiative programs dated February 22, 2008 in making our application through the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen to secure a 40-B site eligibility letter from DHCD for Bradley Square," Mr. Leonard said. "The information was provided to the selectmen for their review. They can certainly hold a public hearing if they'd like to, but they are not required to."
Mr. Leonard also pointed out that the Bradley Square project has undergone extensive public review, including four well-attended public hearings before the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and six public hearings before the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals (ZBA). "I question whether the state would even allow the board of selectmen to review a project that's being reviewed by the zoning board of appeals," said Mr. Jordi. He said the zoning board of appeals is the body designated to review the comprehensive permit process, and noted that Ms. Scott had attended some of the ZBA hearings, as well as the Martha's Vineyard Commission hearings, and participated in those hearings.
The latest dispute comes at a critical juncture for the project. At tonight's special town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters will decide whether to rescind $400,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds approved overwhelmingly on a voice vote by the annual town meeting in April. The article was submitted by petition, with the signatures of more than 100 people. Donald Muckerheide, a Dukes County Avenue property owner, and vocal critic of the Bradley Square project, organized the petition drive.
At Tuesday's meeting, Mr. DiOrio referred to the article. "If that funding is withdrawn, does the project go away?" he asked the applicants.
"I think the project would pretty much be dead," answered Mr. Leonard.