Back on track
Chilmark's selectmen and affordable housing supporters have rehabilitated the town's Middle Line housing plan, and for their trouble they've won an unambiguous endorsement from town voters. The application of some caution, a bottom line concern for cost, and a determination to confront possible legal issues, rather than push ahead hoping for the best, has led to a new strategy that voters appear to understand and approve.
The new proposal would divide the town-owned 21 acres on Middle Line Path into seven lots, six for resident home sites on which the town may design but the owners will build houses, and a large seventh lot which will be the site for six rental units and include substantial open space. Rental units and home sites will be integrated.
One of the issues that derailed the earlier plan had to do with the degree to which state rules would come into play if the town used Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, whose source is a combination of Chilmark and state tax revenues, to do the housing development. The new plan segregates the CPA money, so that it will be used for the development of infrastructure, thus warding off state influence on such matters as deciding who may be eligible to buy or rent the affordable units. It was an important question mark facing the earlier plan, and the new plan addresses it sensibly.
The next step is a request for proposals to do the preliminary work before any actual construction. These involve planning, design work, engineering, and surveying. There's sufficient money already allocated, the selectmen say, to do that work. That means the risks to town taxpayers are contained, because if new problems develop, their dimensions may be measured before voters are asked to appropriate more money to the Middle Line effort. More money will certainly be needed.
"When we have better numbers, we'll come back to town meeting," Warren Doty, the Chilmark selectman, told Susan Vaughn, a Times reporter.
This is a small affordable housing project, nothing like the 60-plus affordable units now under construction in Edgartown, but it's big for Chilmark, and it's an unmistakable declaration of the town's commitment to finding places for moderate income residents to live in a town where property values are Himalayan.
To the sky-is-falling crowd, who looked at the collapse of the earlier effort in a welter of uncertainty as evidence of insufficient allegiance to affordable housing on the part of the selectmen, here is the moment to put aside the bruised egos and join up with the new deal.
The selectmen said, when the first plan unraveled, that they would follow through on affordable housing, because the town had decided to do it, and they said they would carry the effort forward carefully, because it was their job to do so. Given their executive responsibility for town affairs, the selectmen have done exactly what they said they would do, and voters ought to be pleased.