Flim-flammed, baited and switched


To the Editor:

Many of us remain extremely concerned about the proposed “Edgartown Lofts” apartments at the already-congested Triangle area, for reasons of both safety and sanity. We all know that housing is a serious issue on the Vineyard; many of us have done the frustrating “Vineyard shuffle” ourselves. And we all (try to) drive through that chaotic intersection, as do our visitors. We need more planning from our planning boards and fewer knee-jerk reactions. We all need to make efforts to maintain and support the quality of life we, residents and visitors alike, love. The Island’s ecologic and economic future depends upon it. We have heard the comment, “Oh, it’s just a couple of months that it’s really bad.” I beg to differ. Now that we have successfully sold the shoulder season to our visitors, it’s six months. We’ll lose that six months of good will and income if we continue to just play dumb.

From the very beginning, before any public input at all, the Edgartown planning board was singularly supportive of Mr. Charles Hajjar’s application and essentially asked the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, in its requisite review, to rubber-stamp the application and send it back for the planning board’s final decision. The MVC held two lengthy public meetings and ultimately made several recommendations which ameliorated only a few of the considerable negative impacts upon the area, the town and the Island.

From the very beginning, also, the applicant and his attorney, Sean Murphy, have played a game of bait-and-switch with the public, feigning concern for the community and snowing us with pretty pictures and interminably long and repetitive presentations — which seem to get twisted just a little bit more every time. From the initial proposal to provide “year-round stable housing in the year-round workforce on the island,” they quickly changed the description to “market-rate” rental housing intended for “police, teachers, etc.” Originally, Mr. Murphy suggested a $1,000-$1,200 monthly rental figure, which later changed to $1,500-$1,700, and most recently became “around $2,000.” From the initial proposal to create around 23 additional spaces and improve the parking lot, they now tell us that around 15 spaces will be created, but that no improvement will be made to the already chaotic parking configuration and surface unless the applicant gets his way.

Most importantly, however, the applicant and his attorney initially told the MVC he would carefully manage and not sell the units for 10 years. “This is his business; he’s very good at it,” Mr. Murphy said. However, now that the MVC has remanded the project back to the Edgartown planning board, they’ve changed their tune again: Mr. Hajjar reserves the right to sell all of those units, together, to another entity after just three years. And one of those entities, he says, could be his own.

If the Edgartown planning board approves this application, it must require a covenant running with the land (i.e., forever) — filed in the Dukes County Registry of Deeds before the planning board approval is filed. Otherwise, there is not legal provision for those units to remain “reasonable,” “year-round,” “for island workers” — or even as “rentals,” for that matter. Any new owner/entity could turn them into condos or co-ops and sell them to individuals for his/her own gain. And Mr. Hajjar’s, of course.

The planning board held a public hearing regarding this and several other matters on June 17. Approximately 45 people waited patiently in the hot and crowded selectmen’s meeting room at Edgartown town hall for almost two hours before the “Edgartown Lofts” proposal began. The chairman said there had never been such a crowd at any of its previous meetings. The meeting ran late, speakers were unheard, and letters were unread, so the meeting was adjourned about 8:30 pm to Tuesday evening, July 1st. Meanwhile, those in attendance were subjected to the former planning board chairman’s outrageous intimidation, shouting and scolding that “in 33 years, he had never had a problem parking at the Post Office (72,000 times at 6 days a week).”

To the Edgartown Planning Board: Please register covenants that run with the land, if you must approve the “Edgartown Lofts” project. (See specifics in Harriet Hoar’s letter to the editor published June 12);  Please plan; don’t just pounce. There are several town “tax properties” in far less congested areas that might also be viable for reasonable rental housing for year-round employees.

To our neighbors, Island-wide: Please write or email additional letters to the Planning Board (PO Box 1065, Edgartown 02539 or planningboard@edgartown-ma.us) specifically requesting covenants that run with the land to protect us from any further deceptive tactics re this project; Please attend the Tuesday, July 1, planning Board meeting at the Edgartown Town Hall. The meeting will begin at 5:30 pm.

Mr. Hajjar and his attorney may have flim-flammed the MVC and the Edgartown planning board, but they can’t flim-flam us if we all speak up, and out, together.

Dianne Smith