Chilmark voters approve Middle Line plan
Chilmark's Middle Line affordable housing plan passed easily at a special town meeting Monday, after residents were satisfied by answers to a few questions about the plan.
The first four sections of the town meeting warrant article passed by voice vote with only one no heard. The other three sections passed unanimously. Eighty-two, or about 10 percent, of Chilmark's 818 voters participated in the town meeting.
A simpler and less costly agenda item, replacing windows and doors at the Chilmark Community Center, drew a more lively debate over the funding source. However, that item eventually passed as originally written, to allocate $37,500 from a combination of town and Community Preservation Act funds.
The new housing plan devised by a selectmen-appointed subcommittee this summer calls for subdividing a 21-acre town-owned parcel on Middle Line Path into seven lots, with six serving as resident home sites for owner-built houses and the seventh large lot for all six rental units and open space. The intent of the new plan is to integrate the rental units with the home sites, selectman Warren Doty, the board's point man on the project, said.
"With approval of the plan today," Mr. Doty said before the vote, "we could move ahead with the subdivision plan even if there is not funding approval."
Most of the voters' questions Monday related to the development process and costs. The selectmen were not able to provide definite cost estimates, but assured the voters that the initial costs of surveying, engineering, and architectural design could be covered with $191,000, which is available from a previous $212,000 allocation.
Mr. Doty said he also anticipates the town will benefit from pro bono work on the architectural, engineering and surveying aspects of the project. "When we have better numbers, we'll come back to town meeting," he said.
Mr. Doty explained that under the new plan, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds will be used to develop the infrastructure of roads and utilities up to the edge of building lots, where other funding sources must begin to pay the bills.
"That allows Chilmark to have complete control," he said, explaining the rationale for the town serving as the project developer. The selectmen rejected a proposal last December that called for a private developer and may have used CPA funds in ways that would have allowed the state to dictate some aspects of the project and even eligibility of project beneficiaries.
"I think in the long run this is a much better plan," Mr. Doty said.
More funding will be needed to build the rental units that are expected to cost $1 million to $1.1 million, leaving a shortfall from the $600,000 mortgage, Mr. Doty said. He said additional funding could come from CPA, town money, loans, or bonding.
Several residents asked about the wells and septic systems for the project. Mr. Doty said one proposal is to have one well serve four units, but if a cluster has more than 12 bedrooms, it has to have public water service. To avoid that, he said the housing units will be limited to four bedrooms.
The board of health recommended that each home site have its own septic system.
The fifth step in the housing process will be to award the home sites through a lottery and a process determined by the Chilmark housing committee, with the selectmen's approval.
"It is still open whether the town or recipients should design their own house," board chairman J.B. Riggs Parker said. Modular housing is one consideration, he said, that could be designed by the town architect at less expense to the homeowners. The homeowners will pay for the cost of permits and construction and the town will retain ownership of the land.
The selectmen could not give a definite date for the Request for Proposals (RFP) to be issued to a developer for the six rental units.
"During 2007," selectman Frank Fenner said. "We cannot give a drop-dead date. We're trying to make this happen as soon as we can."
The funding for replacing windows and doors at the Community Center drew several comments, both pro and con. Judy Jardin, former town treasurer, questioned the use of historic preservation funds for the project, saying she didn't see much historical significance to the 50-year-old building.
When Ms. Jardin asked for the historical funding guidelines, town counsel Ronald Rappaport said the state criteria include social as well as historical or architectural significance. The work also is needed to comply with state building codes.
Leonard Jason, town building inspector and a member of the historical commission, agreed with Ms. Jardin. He proposed an amendment to the article that would have allotted only town money for the project. "This is our building, and we should take care of it," Mr. Jason said.
Several people, however, disagreed, saying that using some of the $150,000 in historic preservation funds was appropriate for the project.
Andy Goldman, chairman of the community preservation committee, said, "We have the money sitting there. Here's a way to save our [town] funds. It's a shame to spend when we don't have to."
After more discussion, the amendment was defeated and the original funding proposal was approved for the combination of funding.
Twenty-two other articles on the town meeting warrant passed with little discussion or opposition.
Mr. Doty explained that a requested amount of $213,500 was not an expenditure, but a transfer of Community Preservation Act annual revenue to the community preservation budgeted reserve fund.
Two of the larger appropriations included $58,681 from State-Aid Highways for various town road repairs and $100,000 from available town funds to repave one mile of North Road and part of Tabor House Road this fall.
Other appropriations included: $20,000 for repainting the Menemsha schoolhouse (now the police station) and minor repairs to the belfry and windows; $10,000 to restore and preserve historic town records; $24,790 to dredge a portion of Menemsha Harbor: $25,000 to replace up to 30 pilings in Menemsha Harbor.