Cozy Hearth project review continues
The Cozy Hearth affordable housing project inched forward in the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) process last week, as the commission's Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) began reviewing all of the documentation from the public hearing that concluded in October.
The committee mainly focused on wastewater disposal and traffic, two of the issues addressed repeatedly and exhaustively in the five-month MVC process. After new questions were raised, the committee continued the review hearing to Nov. 21.
After observing the meeting, a weary Bill Bennett, president of the Cozy Hearth Community Corporation, vented his frustration. "When it comes down to a grass-roots affordable housing project, nobody comes out and says a good word about it. The commissioners are completely negative."
The project has received support, however, from other affordable housing advocates such as John Abrams, chairman of the Island Affordable Housing Fund, who spoke strongly in its favor at the initial MVC hearing. Mr. Abrams's company, South Mountain Company, designed and built a co-housing neighborhood in West Tisbury.
In watching the Cozy Hearth group's progress through the MVC process, Mr. Abrams said he thinks the project is "a bellwether" for the MVC, since it is being built by private individuals rather than a developer.
"I don't envy the commissioners their task. I think they have done a very thorough job," said Mr. Abrams. "My hope is that they will come up with approval, with a set of conditions that is strong enough to satisfy themselves and the neighbors, and smart enough so that Cozy Hearth can do the project."
He praised Mr. Bennett and the Cozy Hearth members for their initiative and perseverance. "From the start, the most attractive aspect of the project to me has been that it's a group of Islanders banding together and taking the bull by the horns," Mr. Abrams said.
The Cozy Hearth project is a self-funded initiative by Mr. Bennett, an Island businessman, and some of his employees, friends, and family to create affordable housing in rural Edgartown. The group purchased 10.9 acres off Watcha Path Road in an area zoned for three-acre lots. Their project has been under review by the MVC as a development of regional impact (DRI), because the developers applied to subdivide the acreage into 11 one-acre lots containing affordable housing units, under the auspices of the state's Chapter 40B anti-snob-zoning law.
Over the course of the public hearing process by the MVC that included five continuances, the Cozy Hearth group revised its plans several times to accommodate the commissioners' suggestions regarding the development's layout, septic systems, traffic management, environmental protection, and housing styles.
However, in their review, the LUPC members were not satisfied with the final plans proposed for wastewater disposal systems. Instead, the committee embraced the idea of a new technology raised for the first time at the meeting by Matt Poole, the Edgartown health agent. The alternative system would cost about $27,000 per house in comparison to $14,000 for a composting toilet system.
Mr. Bennett said he was surprised by the direction the committee took. "No one even batted an eye. The cost was not a concern of any of the commissioners," he said the next day. "I think the MVC should give us a performance standard, instead of trying to figure out what to use. Why get involved in the technologies? Let us just do it."
The committee members also rehashed traffic issues anticipated at the intersection of Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, Watcha Path Road and Oyster Watcha Road. Although the Cozy Hearth group already paid $8,000 for a traffic study and the MVC conducted a traffic survey during the summer, the LUPC proposed having another study done.
The LUPC's continued post-hearing review is scheduled for Nov. 21 at 5:30 pm at the MVC offices.