MVC approves Edgartown lofts project

Charles Hajjar, of Haven Road Realty Trust, is proposing to construct ten apartments in the existing second floor attic space in Post Office Square. — Photo by Michelle Gross

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday voted 8-2 to approve a plan by Boston based developer Charles Hajjar to build a total of eight second story apartments in the Post Office Square complex in Edgartown.

The vote on the development of regional impact (DRI) came at the conclusion of the MVC’s second public hearing on a project that had raised objections from neighborhood critics who cited concerns about increased parking problems, traffic, and late night noise.

At the MVC’s first public hearing on the project, Mr. Hajjar presented a plan for ten apartments with a total of 20 bedrooms. Thursday night, Mr. Hajjar presented a revised proposal to build 8 apartments with a total of 15 bedrooms. He also included a 25 percent reduction in the scope of the overall project,  limitations on tenant parking, a revised landscaping and parking plan, a change from exterior to interior stairways and a condition that the units could not be sold or transferred for a period of 10 years.

“This is the right place for this development,” said attorney Sean Murphy, Mr. Hajjar’s representative. “I know people aren’t happy about it, but it’s the right place, we have limited ability to provide multi-family housing on the Vineyard and these structures are already there, all we have to do is dormer them out.”

The complex is located in the town’s BII business district and abuts the Dark Woods neighborhood and the Edgartown Park & Ride lot. Mr. Murphy said the changes to the proposal were a direct result of the April 3rd hearing.

“We listened to what direct abutters and neighbors had to say about it and the concerns that were raised,” Mr. Murphy said.

There are a total of 16 business units in the Post Office Square complex. Edgartown Meat & Fish and Granite Hardware operate in two of the buildings. The apartments will be built above the existing businesses.

Commissioners cite housing need

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, commissioners noted the need for affordable year-round housing on the Island.

“If you’re telling us that the reason we should approve is that we’re creating rental apartments that are sorely needed on the Island on the one hand but then say we’re only going to make them rental apartments for five years, to me, that undercuts your other argument,” commissioner Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs said.

Mr.  Hajjar, who did not attend the first public hearing but was present Thursday night, responded. “I’ve never turned a building condo and I’ve never sold a unit,” he said. “I’m in the real estate business for the long term, we take real good care of our property, we make sure we put the right tenants in, and we manage real well.”

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs asked Mr. Hajjar to define primary residence. “The market is a year-round, 12-month lease,” Mr. Murphy said. “I know you’re worried about enforcement, I understand that, but you have to have some faith that when he [Mr. Hajjar] rents these things, they’re going to be to the right people.”

Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury noted the benefits and detriments of traffic and parking in the area. “I think there are some obvious problems which we might describe as mixing a sort of urban concept with a nearby neighborhood,” she said. “It’s difficult that these two things are so close to each other, but I actually think that this is the right place.”

Ms. Sibley reiterated what she called an “extreme need” for additional workforce housing on the Island. “The need for this is outweighing the problems,” Ms. Sibley said.

No worse

Unlike the first hearing, few people spoke in opposition. Dan Seidman, representing the Dukes County Regional Housing Association, said there is a need for affordable housing on the Island.

“It would be really nice if the person who had this plan would designate two units, three units to affordable housing, that’s where we have the maximum need on this Island,” Mr. Seidman said. “The problem is there will be people who won’t be able to afford it.”

Edgartown resident Harriet Hoar asked Mr. Murphy for more information on apartment rents.

“I can’t give an actual definition because it’s driven by the market,” Mr. Murphy said. “We anticipate $1,500-$1,700, it depends on what people are willing to pay.”

Edgartown resident Gregory Palermo addressed potential traffic issues in the area. “I think that this project has the potential to have a lot bigger impact on the traffic problems than is being considered,” he said. “Everyone agrees that it’s a nightmare, I think that this project will make a nightmare worse and I urge you all to turn it down.”

Edgartown resident Alice Upham said she has lived in town for 24 years and every year traffic only seems to get worse. “I just don’t want to see this go through,” she said. “I hope you vote it down.”

In his closing statement, Mr. Murphy addressed traffic, parking, and the need for housing on the Island. “We keep hearing about the traffic,  and I agree the traffic is horrible in that area, but these apartments are not going to make it any better or any worse,” he said.

The Edgartown planning board had strongly endorsed the project.  In a letter to the MVC dated June 24, 2013, the planning board asked the MVC to waive a mandatory traffic study, stating that an earlier study was sufficient and that town boards were more than capable of reviewing the project and attaching conditions.

The MVC approved the project with no conditions.

Voting for the project were Tripp Barnes of Tisbury, James Joyce of Edgartown, Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark, John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs, Christina Brown of Edgartown, Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury and Brian Smith of West Tisbury. Madeline Fisher of Edgartown and Lenny Jason of Chilmark voted no.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Edgartown lofts project developer Charles Hajjar, planned to construct 15 apartments. Mr. Hajjar will construct 8 apartments for a total of 15 bedrooms.