The Island Plan: a progress report
The preparation of the Island Plan began last summer. Today, seven discussion papers were released, which give the Island community an update on the work accomplished over the past winter. Next Wednesday is the first of six public forums at which Vineyarders - year-round and seasonal - can learn more about the ongoing efforts and participate in shaping its direction.
The purpose of the Island Plan is to let Vineyarders step back from our daily responsibilities to ask ourselves: Is the Vineyard headed in the right direction? Should we be adjusting our course?
After a year of work on the Island Plan, it is clear that Vineyarders have many serious concerns about the direction in which the Vineyard is moving and want the community to take a more pro-active role in creating the future we want. The Island Plan is taking both a long-term view - to understand the future implications of continuing present trends, and to free us to tackle seemingly overwhelming problems - and a short-term view, identifying actions that can get underway now.
The first of 10 overall goals that have been identified is to "use the Island and manage its development in ways compatible with the long-term sustainability and carrying capacities of our environment and community." The challenge will be reconciling people's desire to "preserve the Vineyard's natural environment, water quality, open spaces, scenic beauty, and habitat" and to "maintain a community that is economically, culturally, and ethnically diverse", without sacrificing one for the other.
Other overall goals include: stimulating a vital, balanced, local economy that is more self-reliant and more diverse; concentrating development in compact, mixed-use, walkable town and village centers, while limiting building in environmentally sensitive areas; producing as much of our essentials, such as food and energy, as we can; and converting our waste into useful products.
Each of the five active Island Plan Work Groups - Energy and Waste, Housing, Livelihood and Commerce, Natural Environment, and Water Resources - has prepared a discussion paper including the general directions that have emerged so far, as well as the most promising specific initiatives. This is a work-in-progress, based on previous plans, on forums, on surveys, on public meetings, on inquiries, and on journeys of exploration held over the past 10 months.
Meanwhile, the Island Plan steering committee has begun to examine the overarching question of development and growth. It is first mapping significant natural areas, neighborhoods, and heritage areas, as well as projecting future needs. Then, it will look at alternative scenarios for growth.
The Housing Work Group looked at how we can meet the needs of the community not well served by the market, including year-round housing for working people, summer workforce housing, and housing for seniors.
The median price for a home on the Vineyard has more than tripled, from $205,000 in 1997 to $695,000 in 2006. To buy this house, a family would have to earn $175,000 a year, but half of year-round Vineyard families do not earn even $70,000 annually.
A primary aim identified by the Housing Work Group is to increase the number of housing units on the Vineyard that are affordable to year-round residents, prioritizing those residents with the greatest need and emphasizing the creation of rental units.
One way to do this would be to allow additional density for new community housing in appropriate locations. This could include allowing an additional accessory-housing unit on any property, provided it is used either for a family member or for affordable housing. A similar provision in West Tisbury resulted in the creation of about 30 units since 2003. A related measure would be to allow multi-unit community housing in certain areas, with all units beyond those already allowed to be used only for year-round community housing. We need to consider whether this is okay if it leads to an increase in the Island's ultimate population, or whether it should be linked into a reduction of density in rural areas.
To limit some of the impacts related to new development, we could prioritize the use of existing buildings for new affordable housing. Demolition delay bylaws could encourage house preservation or reuse. How can we make it viable for houses presently occupied by year-round families to stay that way into the future?
The Housing Work Group also identified various measures to streamline the planning and management of affordable housing efforts and to increase funding for community housing. Other proposals include building dormitory housing for seasonal workers and creating continuous-care communities for seniors.
Many of the ideas being discussed are not new. The aim of the Island Plan is to sort through the hundreds of ideas and proposals that are out there, to make sure that those put forward to deal with one issue are compatible with those dealing with others, and to seek a community consensus on priorities. Then, the critical part will be translating consensus into action.
Vineyarders are invited to find out about and participate in this important planning effort by getting the discussion papers, coming to the forums and giving feedback in other ways described on the website - www.islandplan.org. The Housing Forum will be held next Wednesday evening. I hope to see you there.
Jim Athearn is chairman of the Island Plan steering committee. The Housing Forum will take place on June 27, at 7:30 pm, at the Tisbury Senior Center.