The board is expected to make a decision on the project at their next scheduled meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 27.
While the public has had more than six months to comment on the project, called Bridge Commons, since the ZBA held its first public hearing on the application on April 8, it was standing-room-only at last week's meeting.
ZBA board members had few questions for the applicant, but audience members including project abutters and lawyers for abutters continued their vocal protest to the project. Traffic and density were among the top concerns expressed.
Juleann VanBelle of West Tisbury, who has served on the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and is a founding board member of the Island Affordable Housing Fund, said the project is simply too big.
"I feel that I have the unfortunate position of both wanting to support the creation of housing that is truly much needed, and I think the people from Bridge are dedicated and sincere in their efforts to do this, but I also feel strongly that neighborhoods should not bear the burden of the housing that is created," said Ms. VanBelle.
Other audience members echoed her comments.
Ms. VanBelle suggested that neighbors opposed to the density could help fund the project in order to reduce the number of units.
"The reality is that Bridge is restricted by funding and the amount of money to build this. In order to have fewer units we need to find a way to subsidize the whole project to something that everyone can live with. In order to do that we need the neighborhood to come help us figure out the funding to reduce the units by half. Can we do it, yeah, we can. We have a rich community. Let's figure it out," she said.
Neither representatives from Bridge Housing nor any ZBA members responded to the suggestion.
However, after the public hearing was closed, singer/songwriter Carly Simon, who abuts the proposed project and attended the meeting, told a Times reporter that she would be willing to explore helping to subsidize the project in order to reduce the number of units. "I think it's something that should be looked into," she said. Ms. Simon is among several project abutters who are locked in a legal battle over access and right-of-way easements through their properties.
Despite being outside the purview of the ZBA, the various lawsuits surrounding the right-of-way claims have been focal points for audience members throughout the public hearing process.
At last week's meeting, lawyers for the various parties urged the ZBA, if it approves the project, not to place any restrictions on access that could hinder the possible settlement of the lawsuits. However, Jay Talerman, ZBA counsel, told the board that aside from safety issues relating to access, the various right-of-way arguments are not issues that the ZBA can address. "The board doesn't know who is using [the access roads], and doesn't care to know who is using them right now. It is not their purview," he said.
This week, ZBA chairman Sue Fairbanks said that despite the fact that the various legal arguments are not her board's concern, she thought it was important to let the public express their concerns over any and all aspects of the project. "I thought it was important to let the abutters and neighbors speak, even though the whole thing with the lawsuits is really a separate issue, it was important to let them speak to it," said Ms. Fairbanks.
The concerns that were raised at the ZBA hearings echoed those raised at Martha's Vineyard Commission public hearings last year. After an extensive review, the MVC approved the project in June 2003. The project was before the regional planning agency as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Bridge Housing Corporation, a small non-profit organization comprised primarily of local religious groups, committed itself in September 2000 to creating affordable housing on the Island. The group proposed building a 30-unit affordable housing development in Vineyard Haven, under the 40B permit rules, which allow towns to waive existing zoning laws in the name of higher-density developments as long as a percentage of the units are sold at below-market rates.
The project, dubbed Bridge Commons, calls for 15 two-family houses clustered on the southern end of 24 acres off of State Road. Under an agreement with the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, Bridge Housing would sell 9.1 acres to the land bank, and grant the agency a conservation easement on another 6.1 acres. The actual development would be kept within an 8.7-acre site.