Cozy Hearth project faces a new round of hearings, this time with ZBA
After wrapping up a grinding seven-month hearing process before the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) last December, the Cozy Hearth affordable housing project began at the beginning again last week, this time in a public hearing before the Edgartown zoning board of appeals (ZBA).
Although the MVC approved the Cozy Hearth project with a long list of conditions, the ZBA also requires a full review during comprehensive permit hearings.
At the beginning of last week's hearing, Martin (Skip) Tomassian Jr., ZBA chairman, said the board would not make a decision that night, and probably not for one or two more sessions.
Some Cozy Hearth members, still feeling somewhat battered from the MVC process, had anticipated an easier time before the ZBA. Mr. Tomassian quickly dispelled that notion. Throughout the course of the hearing, Mr. Tomassian, an attorney, often appeared to take on the role of a prosecutor, peppering the Cozy Hearth representatives with questions.
Before asking Bill Bennett, Cozy Hearth's president, to re-present his case to the ZBA, Mr. Tomassian warned audience members, "If you're sitting in the audience, and somebody is saying something you don't like, please don't roll your eyes and grimace and talk to your buddy. We will remember you, when your turn comes."
Mr. Bennett, an electrical contractor, began by describing the group of employees, family, and friends that make up Cozy Hearth as people who live and work on the Island, but have been unable to realize the dream of owning a home here. He said the project's issues break down into four main categories - wastewater, traffic, habitat, and economics, issues that were discussed at length during the MVC's review of Cozy Hearth as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The unusual affordable housing project proposes to subdivide 11 acres zoned for 3-acre lots off Watcha Path in Edgartown into 1-acre lots through a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B.
Three houses would be awarded to Edgartown residents eligible for affordable housing through a lottery. The rest will be owned by Cozy Hearth members, with five houses qualifying as affordable through permanent deed restrictions, and the remaining three at market rate.
During the two-hour hearing, Mr. Bennett and his consultants offered a detailed explanation of Cozy Hearth's proposal, with frequent questions from ZBA members. Mr. Tomassian's first question for Robert Culbert, an ecological consultant who conducted a habitat assessment with his wife Wendy, was not about the study but about Mr. Culbert's credentials and whether he had submitted a resume to the board.
Chris Alley, a civil engineer from Schofield, Barbini and Hoehn, gave a layman's explanation of nitrogen-reducing wastewater systems. The MVC, he said, set nitrogen-load limitations for groundwater on Cozy Hearth's proposed site at 1.8 kilograms per acre per year.
"What size is 1.8 kilograms?" Mr. Tomassian asked. Mr. Alley, obviously puzzled by the question, told him, "One point eight kilograms of gold is very small. If you're talking about air, it's very big."
"I mean, it's not something you put in a wheelbarrow," Mr. Tomassian continued. Mr. Alley, clearly at a loss for words, uttered three times, "I have no idea."
Several times during the evening, Mr. Tomassian told Mr. Bennett he was "curious as to the thought process that's gone into what you've done so far."
In discussions about Cozy Hearth's impact on traffic, groundwater and the neighbors, Mr. Tomassian's questions centered around restrictions. How many cars would be allowed per house? Where would the cars park?
Mr. Bennett told him, "These are young families. We don't want to tell them how many cars to have." He also said that housing placement and parking areas were not locked in yet.
Mr. Tomassian also asked whether, in light of environmental considerations, Cozy Hearth residents would be restricted from changing their oil in their cars, doing motor vehicle maintenance, and keeping unregistered vehicles on their property.
Mr. Bennett assured him that Cozy Hearth residents would abide by Edgartown's bylaws and ordinances like anybody else. "My thought was the people in the Cozy Hearth development should be able to live their lives like the neighbors. Why should it be different for them?" he said.
"Because you're asking us to go from three acres to one," Mr. Tomassian responded. He asked Mr. Bennett what the houses would look like, and whether the development would have an architectural review board. How many lights will the houses have? How many doors, Mr. Tomassian asked him.
"I don't want to put limits on the kind of house someone builds," Mr. Bennett said, but Mr. Tomassian curtly told him, "You may have to."
Marcia Cini, Cozy Hearth's attorney, pointed out that the development will have covenants.
"Well, I sure as heck wouldn't want to build a nice house and have somebody build an A-frame next to it," Mr. Tomassian said.
Mr. Bennett pointed out that in order to make the development more palatable to neighbors, Cozy Hearth had offered to limit housing height to 24 feet during the MVC hearings, and additional buildings, such as garages and sheds, to 15 feet. "If we allow them at all," Mr. Tomassian said.
Ending the hearing precisely after two hours, Mr. Tomassian assured people who attended the hearing, both for and against the project, that they would be given the opportunity to speak at another time.
The board continued the hearing to April 18 at 7 pm. Mr. Tomassian said that after Mr. Bennett completes his presentation, letters from town boards and community members will be read into the record, and then the board will invite public comment.