Chilmark sees larger town role in building affordable housing at Middle Line site
Chilmark's three affordable housing programs are moving forward, but the process for its largest and most complex program may take a different direction than was envisioned at first.
"The state suggests that 10 per cent of a community's housing units should be affordable housing. That would mean about 100 housing units in Chilmark. Including house lots, we have about 20 units in place," selectman Warren Doty explained in a telephone interview last week. "Within the next 18 months, we ought to have 17 affordable housing units up and occupied."
Town-wide, 11 home sites and six rental units are planned, including a 2.1-acre single homesite off Old Farm Road, six homesites and six rental units in two buildings off Middle Line Road and four homesites at Nab's Corner off South Road.
As the town completes site testing on its Middle Line Road and Nab's Corner programs and finalizes plans to award the affordable homesites by lottery on January 6, it is also considering whether the town will take on the role of building some of the affordable housing, at least in the case of Middle Line Road.
"The plan was for the town to take the approach used at Morgan Woods, in which a developer was hired and the town provided oversight, then managed the property," said Chuck Hodgkinson, a town administrator who is shepherding the housing effort. "Maybe it's time to consider the approach used by West Tisbury in renovating its town hall."
"Are we considering a different direction for Middle Line Road? Certainly, yes, at least for the rental units," said selectman Mr. Doty this week. "We've proposed a mixed use (single family homes and rental units) project, and that's made it more difficult and involved. Inside our world at Martha's Vineyard, that's difficult to do."
Selectmen this month directed Mr. Hodgkinson to abandon pursuit of modular construction bids for the Middle Line Road rental units and to focus on conventional stick built construction plans after an informal modular bid came in nearly $200,000 dollars higher than a similar stick-built informal bid.
Moving from modular construction to stick-built adds new wrinkles, he told the board recently. For example, modular construction plans include detailed unit drawings and specifications as part of the construction package and do not require final detailed architect drawings and specifications.
The original site designs were prepared pro bono by Chilmark resident David Handlin and his firm of Handlin, Garrahan, Zachos & Associates. While several selectmen have commented that Mr. Handlin is willing to continue the work, they are loathe to add to his pro bono workload, given his contribution to date.
Now the town as developer must also decide whether to take on the construction process, as well as likely hiring or finding a clerk of the works to oversee construction. Selectmen have paid attention to the outcome West Tisbury achieved in stewarding the $5.1 million renovation of its town hall.
As a result of the economic downturn, construction bids came in 10 per cent or $500,000 below costs estimated earlier this year by West Tisbury's town hall renovation committee. "The economy could turn out to be a boon, depending on what excites Island builders," Mr. Doty said. "There's a difference between building for a private party than for a municipality," he added.
The Middle Line Road program is not ready to request bids for construction, and right now selectmen are sticking with the step by step plan of readying the land for construction as more informal conversation around the development role has been taking place over the past month.
Mr. Hodgkinson said that the town will begin drilling wells on the Middle Line Road site and conducting percolation tests of the land for building suitability next month, then move to building road and utility infrastructure, regardless of any changes in the construction methodology.
The town is committed to moving the affordable process to completion, Mr. Doty said this week. "We've been behind in creating affordable housing," he said flatly. "We've not been very productive in the past seven years. We've only done a few summer rental conversions to year-round housing."
The Middle Line Road project has been in process for the past six years, involving seven town meetings, as well as approvals from agencies including town conservation committees and from state agencies including the Dukes County Housing Authority and the Martha's Vineyard Commission, town affordable housing documents show.
The affordable housing units the town plans will be placed in perpetual trust as affordable housing with the help of the Dukes County Housing Authority, which qualifies affordable housing candidates. Housing recipients are responsible for securing financing.
Selectmen are more comfortable with the single-use Nab's Corner and lottery homesite plans. "We are the developer, in the sense of taking the land for use along with the Land Bank, but it's a home ownership model which fits our regular process, similar to the process we used decades ago to create several dozen youth lots," Mr. Doty said. "The difference is that these units will always remain affordable housing." The youth lot program allowed participants who lived in the home for 10 years to sell at market rates.