Editorial : Density, indeed
As Edgartown town counsel Ron Rappaport put it, answering a newspaper reporter's question about the Cozy Hearth 11-lot, 40B, cluster development plan, whose enervating, five-year struggle for approval appears about over, it has been a fight "about density, density, density."
The developer, a privately funded, not-for-profit group of friends, relatives, and employees, sought to create a neighborhood of building lots they could afford on Martha's Vineyard, where they want to live. The withering plague of regulatory review added conditions, which made lots that may have been nearly affordable in the conception ultimately unaffordable in the result. But that review merely set the table for years of Edgartown zoning board of appeals opposition, first at the state housing appeals committee, which rejected the town argument, then in Superior Court, which upheld the housing appeals committee decision, and now, in the offing, the threat of a third appeal.
Edgartown, which funded these repeated appeals, the town zoning board of appeals that is distinguished only by its relentlessness, the critics of the development plan who heaped expense upon expense along the way, and the affordable housing community, whose support for the Cozy Hearth effort has been muted at best - will have defeated a worthy and privately funded affordable housing plan, not on the merits, but rather by bleeding the modestly funded applicants of time and money.
The conception for the Cozy Hearth development was Bill Bennett's. Mr. Bennett is an electrical contractor. The plan to develop an affordable housing community occurred to him after the loss of two of his best employees, who left him and intended to leave the Island because they could not find affordable housing. The Cozy Hearth Community Corporation (CHCC) bought 11 acres of land in Edgartown zoned for three-acre lots. Their plan required dividing the land into 11 one-acre lots for 11 houses, under the provisions of Chapter 40B, a state statute aimed at defeating local zoning rules that block the development of affordable housing, as Vineyard zoning rules do.
Under 40B, CHCC would have been required to give 25 percent of the development's lots to Edgartown for affordable housing. That meant that Cozy Hearth would contribute three lots to be sold by the town through an affordable housing lottery. The cost of the affordable housing opportunities given to the town would be divided among the Cozy Hearth members, along with about $85,000 per lot added during the regulatory process. The remaining eight lots were destined for Cozy Hearth members.
After a seven-month review, the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) approved the project in December 2005, with a host of expensive conditions.
In March 2006, Cozy Hearth went to the Edgartown ZBA. In May, the ZBA voted against the 11-house plan and approved just nine. Decreasing project density meant Mr. Bennett and his Cozy Hearth partners would lose two of the three market value lots and that six, not eight, Cozy Hearth members would share the total financial burden.