LUPC reviews Chilmark housing project
A team of Chilmark town officials and experts for Chilmark's Middle Line Path affordable housing project turned what was supposed to be a practice run Monday into a detailed presentation at a pre-public hearing review before the Martha's Vineyard Commission's land use planning committee (LUPC).
LUPC chairman Christina Brown assured the group they did not have to go into all of the details that night, since Chilmark selectmen referred the project as a development of regional impact (DRI), and it will undergo a public hearing process during MVC review. The LUPC, she said, would be concerned with examining some of the issues that might require further clarification during the public hearing.
However, Chilmark selectman Warren Doty, a member of the town's project committee, explained he and the group came prepared to make a 20-minute power-point presentation. "Maybe we over-reacted in being over-prepared," he told Ms. Brown.
Mr. Doty, Chilmark's building and zoning inspector Lenny Jason, and community preservation committee chairman Andy Goldman are on a town committee which oversees the affordable housing project, assisted by architect David Handlin. When they discovered that the MVC's projection system did not work Monday, they resorted to a verbal pitch without the pictures.
Unfazed by the technical difficulties, Mr. Doty assured the LUPC, "We've been to five town meetings with this project, starting way back in 2003, and so we've gotten kind of very good at talking about this project."
Mr. Doty described the overall project as a 9-building, 12-unit affordable housing complex on 21 acres of land. At town meeting, Chilmark residents approved building six residential home site units and six rental units. Instead of selling the land to the homeowners, the town will retain ownership of the 21-acre piece with ground leases for the six residential home sites. The 21 acres will be subdivided into seven lots, with the seventh lot remaining as one big lot containing the rental units.
Mr. Handlin said his architectural firm's goal in designing the affordable housing complex was to retain Holman Road, an ancient way once used to haul clay to local brickworks. The affordable housing project's driveway will follow the Holman road path, and an "educational walkway" will encircle the site.
Mr. Handlin estimated that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the property's open space will be preserved. The housing units will be grouped in three clusters, each with a duplex unit in the middle and two residential home sites.
The affordable housing complex integrates the rental and housing units together to create a mixed-use project, which Mr. Doty said is unique for Martha's Vineyard.
"What we wanted was to get a firm definition from the commission about what our project should look like and how we should lay out the lots, and then we will go to our own planning board next to ask them to approve the subdivision," Mr. Doty told the LUPC.
Chilmark also included another 48 acres of conservation-restricted land owned by the town in the DRI application, bringing the total to 69 acres. This figures into plans to handle the housing complex's wastewater and nitrogen-loading limits in the watershed area where it is located.
About 14 acres of the affordable housing property fall in the Tisbury Great Pond watershed and another seven in the North Shore watershed. The town's board of health recommended that the project utilize separate septic systems for each structure, which would require nine septic systems and nine wells.
Since the MVC figures nitrogen-load limits on every acre in the parcel, even those that will not be developed, the town is asking the MVC to allow nitrogen rights transfers. This would allow the use of nitrogen-loading limits allocated to other nearby parcels to be applied to the affordable housing project.
"The combined contiguous land area within the Tisbury Great Pond watershed area is 62 acres, and 62 acres can support septic systems for up to 17 dwelling units," Mr. Goldman explained. "We are only seeking approval for eight, so we think we should be in pretty good shape with regard to that."
He appealed to the LUPC to view the situation as an acceptable precedent.
"We're saying in these very limited circumstances, we'd like you to recognize the limitations on the circumstances," Mr. Goldman said. "Here we have a publicly sponsored project, we have contiguous land, we have affordable housing, and we have a town-owned conservation restriction."
Chuck Hodgkinson reported that the Massachusetts Historical Commission's (MHC) recommends an archeological survey of two archaeological sites identified on the property. A representative from the Wampanoag tribe also will walk the property and observe the archeological survey.
The Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) identified a small section of the southwestern corner of the property as potential habitat for two state-listed rare species, Mr. Hodgkinson said.
Steve Schwab, Chilmark's housing committee chairman, explained that the affordable housing will go to recipients chosen by lottery, with preference given to Chilmark residents who lived, worked and volunteered in Chilmark for the past five years.
Questions raised by the LUPC concerned the technicalities of the DRI referral, details about the nitrogen rights transfer, cost comparisons between Title 5 septic systems and sewage treatment plants, and the necessity of using Holman road for vehicle traffic.
Anxious to move forward, Mr. Doty said he and the Middle Line Path affordable housing committee hoped the project could undergo MVC review sometimes in January.
"The notion of an affordable housing project that mixes rental units and home ownership and comes up with 70 percent open space, we're never going to get a better combination than that. That is definitely extraordinary," Mr. Doty told the commissioners.