Edgartown housing project under way
Permitting complete, High Street development to break ground
A new housing development consisting of two-single family homes and two affordable housing condominiums at High Street and Pease's Point Way in Edgartown appears to be ready for ground breaking after several months of zoning board hearings and negotiations among the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), neighbors, and the developer.
Signaling that the construction process is nearing, a landscaper asked the board of selectmen last week to approve the removal of two shade trees and some branches from the one-third-acre site. A demolition permit application to remove the vacant Roman Catholic meetinghouse on the site also has been submitted to the building inspector, and a neighbor involved in the review process said the project developer, David J. (Jay) Morton of Wellesley, agreed not to start construction before September.
The project, approved by the ZBA in May, underwent several revisions and three public hearings after the application for a comprehensive 40B permit was submitted in December. Several abutting property owners and other neighbors spoke out at the hearings, not against the affordable units, but against the size and scale of the two market price houses.
Michael Hirschfeld, who owns a home on High Street, was among the four families who hired lawyer Dan Hill of Cambridge to represent their interests. At the first hearing in February, Mr. Hill suggested the ZBA create a design review committee to work with the applicant and abutters, which the board did. Mr. Hirschfeld became one of the committee members and the designated neighborhood representative, who worked out agreements with Mr. Morton to make some concessions on his plans.
"They (the developers) really sort of stacked it in favor of the fair market houses," Mr. Hirschfeld said Tuesday. "The ZBA was not happy, and the developer backed off in the end on size." Some of Mr. Morton's concessions included reducing the height of the single-family houses, adjusting setbacks, eliminating dormers, limiting attic space to storage only, and eliminating some of the driveways, according to ZBA transcripts of the proceedings.
Mr. Morton, founder of Morton Financial, a security firm in Boston, purchased the property as a limited dividend corporation called High and Pease from the archdiocese of Fall River, promising he would do something with affordable housing.
Mr. Morton could have built a large single-family home on the property, but he was not interested in doing that, his lawyer, Jason R. Talerman said at the first public hearing. Mr. Talerman, who previously worked in an Edgartown law office and was town counsel for Tisbury, now specializes in the 40B affordable housing projects with the firm Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead in the Boston area.
Mr. Morton first proposed building two single-family houses and a triplex affordable housing unit on three lots of approximately 5,000 square feet each. In the first hearing neighboring residents raised concerns about the project's scale and density, lack of parking, traffic and pedestrian/bicycle safety, the large amount of waivers from the zoning bylaw, and preservation of the historic village character, according to the official hearing minutes.
Almost all of the neighbors at the hearing said they favored affordable housing, but believed the site would be overloaded with the oversized single-family homes. Many of the abutting houses are small, one-story buildings, Mr. Hirschfeld noted.
"The neighbors just feel bad in terms of the market rate houses," he said. "A lot of people are just angry because there are too many out-of-scale houses in Edgartown. There are others who feel it's a change you're going to have to accept." As far as affordable housing is concerned, he added that many feel "this is what we need to do."
At the hearing, Mr. Hirschfeld said "the developer seemed willing to sacrifice the affordable housing units, but never mentioned downsizing the market-rate units." He suggested the developer remove one of those houses as a concession to the community.
Mr. Morton was reluctant to eliminate the market rate houses because it would not make the project profitable. He did reduce the affordable units from three to two, and agreed to scale back the size of the houses.
After the ZBA raised further questions about building size and safety along High Street at the next hearing, the board encouraged Mr. Morton to work with the concerned neighborhood residents on plan alternatives. The resulting plan presented on April 3 had the reduced building sizes, and showed a common driveway for the two single-family homes, and other changes.
The final approved project consists of two four-bedroom single-family homes of approximately 2,600 square feet each. One will have a detached accessory garage. The townhouse style two-bedroom condominiums of about 1,200 square feet will be restricted for sale to low- or moderate-income households under the 40B permit guidelines. The applicant also received a project eligibility letter from the subsidizing Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency.
In its final approval, the ZBA concluded that the town needs affordable housing and that the project is consistent with "smart growth" principles of walking distance to jobs, schools, restaurants, local services, shops, the library and mass transportation. It also said a waiver for lot area was acceptable because many existing lots in the R-5 zoning district have less than the required 10,000 square feet, and several dozen have 5,000 square feet or less.
The ZBA also granted waivers for front setback requirements for the two single-family lots to approximately 14 feet and 11.5 feet. The board also noted that the project will redevelop a site that currently contains an insignificant abandoned structure and a large parking lot.
Despite the project adjustments, Mr. Hirschfeld said, "Some people are still upset because of the density and scale, and every lot is nonconforming." But, he added, "There is obviously a need for affordable housing."
Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, said he has had some discussions with neighbors and Mr. Morton's lawyer, Mr. Talerman, about transferring the ground leases for the affordable units to the trust.
"It seems the developer is open to working with us," Mr. Jordi said Tuesday. The Edgartown home site committee also has reviewed the application and is supportive, he said, adding that the application also has been sent to MassHousing.
If the developers turn over the property to the trust, the trust would sell it at the agreed upon price according to the comprehensive permit guidelines, and the developer would get the money, Mr. Jordi explained, but the trust would retain the ground lease. The town or another agency such as the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority could handle the buyer selection process for the units.
Transferring the ground lease for the units to the trust would ensure that the properties remain as affordable housing. It requires that a person live in the unit for 11 months of the year, and can only lease the unit to an income-qualified person, Mr. Jordi said. "It requires a certain amount of oversight to make sure these things are going to follow through. It's a good thing for the community."
Transferring the property to the trust will require an amendment of the ZBA's approval of the project.
Neither Mr. Morton nor Mr. Talerman could be reached for comment.