LUPC punts Middle Line Road plan
As the Middle Line affordable housing project heads to a critical vote at the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) tonight, Chilmark officials are stewing over the land use planning committee's (LUPC) deadlocked vote on Monday. The deadlocked LUPC's members will not recommend approval of the project to the full commission during its deliberations and decision tonight. The meeting starts at 7:30 pm at the MVC offices on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs.
Chilmark's affordable housing project underwent a post-hearing review at the LUPC this week, after the conclusion of a public hearing with two sessions on May 10 and 31. The affordable housing project, reviewed as a development of regional impact (DRI), includes plans for a nine-building, 12-unit complex of six residential home sites and six rental units on 21 acres of land on Middle Line Road.
MVC chairman Douglas Sederholm led the LUPC meeting, in the absence of LUPC chairman Christina Brown. During the LUPC's discussion, a few of the commissioners took issue with the project's location, questioning why the development was not built closer to town. The rationale for choosing the site had been explained in detail during the DRI public hearing sessions by the Chilmark selectmen, who said that a scarcity of available parcels and the town's desire to preserve its rural look contributed to the selection of the Middle Line Road site.
At the conclusion of the LUPC discussion, Tisbury commissioner Peter Cabana made a motion to recommend approval of the Middle Line housing project, with conditions. Mr. Sederholm called the vote, but abstained. Edgartown commissioner Jim Athearn, Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans, and Aquinnah commissioner Susan Shea voted not to recommend the project's approval. Mr. Cabana voted to approve it, along with Chilmark commissioner Chris Murphy and Aquinnah commissioner Kathy Newman.
Lenny Jason, a Middle Line project committee member and Chilmark's building inspector, said in a phone call yesterday, "The Commission seems to be trapped in the latest buzz words - smart growth - that's for city living. We're trying to maintain a rural quality here."
Chilmark selectman Warren Doty agreed. "I think their concern was that the site is away from the center of town and that this development does not fit the definition of smart growth," Mr. Doty said on Tuesday. "I would say that people in Chilmark live spread out, surrounded by trees - I think that's what we want, and that's how we have planned this development on the land that's available. I think it's unfair to expect housing in Chilmark to follow state guidelines on smart growth."
Andrew Goldman, chairman of both Chilmark's housing committee and the town's community preservation act committee, said he believes Mr. Sederholm shirked his duty as chairman, whose job is to act as a tie-breaker. His abstention from the vote left the LUPC's decision unmade, Mr. Goldman said.
"For some reason, Mr. Sederholm, who although he lives in Chilmark and is elected from Chilmark, chose that opportunity not to express the will of the Chilmark voters as it has been expressed at five separate town meetings," said Mr. Goldman, who also serves on the Middle Line project committee. "On Thursday, there will be a vote, and I fully expect the Martha's Vineyard Commission does not at the end of the day want to stand in the way of affordable housing,"
Chilmark selectman J. B. Riggs Parker told The Times that the town's leaders considered the issue of location for affordable housing back in 1985, when they created a master plan. "The master plan makes it very clear that Chilmark wants any affordable housing to preserve the rural nature of the town," Mr. Parker said. "I think it's important for the Martha's Vineyard Commission to understand this and honor this, since it's the will of the people of the town."
No matter what the outcome of the MVC process, Mr. Doty, who has served on the Middle Line project committee since its start, remains determined to see the project through. "One way or another, we're going to build houses on this particular piece of land," he vowed, adding that it might require pursuing another avenue, such as Chapter 40-B permit, which allows affordable housing projects to bypass local zoning laws.
"We think this is the best way, and we hope the commission endorses it," said Mr. Doty. "But we will build houses on that land, and people of modest means will live in them."
Mr. Goldman also expressed his commitment to the project. "We're not going to stop just because the Martha's Vineyard Commission may not approve of affordable housing in Chilmark," he said. "This project is near and dear to the housing committee, and the need doesn't go away because it's hit a roadblock at the Martha's Vineyard Commission."
While Mr. Jason said he thought it was disgraceful that the LUPC did not vote to recommend the project's approval, he remained optimistic. "We still have the vote on Thursday night with the full commission. I have my faith in that body."