Governor to help break ground for Bradley Square
Governor Deval Patrick was scheduled to be among the dignitaries grabbing a shovel tomorrow for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Bradley Square affordable housing project in Oak Bluffs. The controversial project is slated for the corner of Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue.
The project site includes the historic Denniston building, once the home of prominent minister Oscar E. Denniston, and the site of the first African American Church on Martha's Vineyard.
Governor Patrick, who is holding a political fundraiser on the Island tomorrow evening, agreed to stop by the 4 pm event to say a few words, as the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust begin the final fundraising push. Also expected to speak are summer visitor Charles Ogeltree Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School, Laurie Perry-Henry, president of the NAACP's local chapter, and Island photographer Alison Shaw.
The groundbreaking will be ceremonial only. The sponsoring organizations still need to raise nearly $1.3 million to begin actual construction of the $5.3 million project, which they hope will begin in the spring of next year.
Housing advocates expect the fundraising effort will get a boost, with the addition of Mr. Ogeltree, and prominent African-American historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. to the fundraising committee. Mr. Ogeltree is expected to lead a discussion and fundraising appeal tomorrow morning in Oak Bluffs.
The project survived a long and contentious permitting process, and significant changes were made following mediated negotiations with a committee of concerned neighbors. Among the changes were lowering the buildings from three stories to two, reducing the overall square footage of the project, and added on-site parking.
The delays came at some cost, as the housing advocates were forced to carry the mortgage on the $905,000 purchase of the property longer than expected. But they are eager to look for silver linings, including a more competitive construction market.
"It provides a lot more access to local contractors at a competitive price," said Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust. "We were anticipating a quicker process as far as the permitting was concerned. It's going to cost a bit more, but that's what needed to happen given the reality of permitting here on the Vineyard. That was something many people in the neighborhood felt strongly about, and we had to make those changes."
"The delay, if it meant anything, strengthened the housing fund's resolve to get this thing done," said Island Affordable Housing Trust executive director Patrick Manning. "We made a commitment in 2007. Any delay costs money. But during those delays, in a couple different areas, it made it a better project."
In its final form, the project includes two new two-story buildings with eight residential units, all designated as affordable. (Plans available here.)
The right to purchase the units will be decided by lottery, among applicants qualified according to their income. Also, part of the plan is restoration of the historic Denniston building, which was the home of prominent minister Oscar E. Denniston, and the site of the first African American Church on Martha's Vineyard. It will become a sanctuary, public meeting space, and offices for the local chapter of the NAACP. The project also includes at least 18 on-site parking spaces. Parking, traffic, and the scope of the project were the largest points of contention among neighbors who live in the neighborhood.
According to the applicants, the Bradley Square design committee held a series of 10 advertised public meetings seeking public opinion on the project between September 2007 and January 2008.
That was followed by six public hearings over a period of four months before the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
At one point, the Island Affordable Housing Fund announced that the land designated for the project was up for sale, with a price tag of $1.5 million.
Then came a series of five public hearings and meetings at the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals (ZBA). In the middle of the ZBA review, a committee of concerned citizens was formed. In a series of seven mediated sessions, that committee negotiated with the applicants for a number of modifications in the Bradley Square plan. The modifications survived a funding challenge on the floor of a special town meeting in December 2008, when voters decided overwhelmingly to reject an attempt to rescind $400,000 in Community Preservation Act funds voted by the annual town meeting earlier that year. The measure was defeated, though several members of the concerned citizens committee withdrew support for the compromise plan they helped negotiate, and spoke in favor of rescinding the funds on the town meeting floor.