MVC poised to review Water Street affordable housing project

Illustrations of the proposed apartment building at 6 Water Street depict (at top) the view from the street, and (below) the south side of the building, which includes solar panels on the roof. — Photo courtesy of James Weisman/

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will begin a review of an affordable housing project proposed by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) on Thursday night. The six-unit rental apartment building would be nestled in-between the Stop & Shop Supermarket and AA Car Rental Company near Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, on a 0.11-acre property where an unoccupied, dilapidated two-story house now stands at 6 Water Street.

The MVC voted last month to review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). If approved as now designed, the house, built in 1930, would be replaced with a two-and-a-half story, 3,600-square-foot building.

There will be six 600-square-foot apartments, three handicapped accessible ground floor units and three on the second floor, each with one bedroom and one bathroom. Photovoltaic panels on the southern roof will help reduce energy costs.

Since the property is located in a 100-year flood zone, the building will be built on piers five feet above the existing grade, a total of 10 feet above sea level, to comply with the latest Federal Emergency Management Agency flood elevations.

“It’s an exciting project, located on a site downtown that provides amenities such as access to public transportation and a lot of services,” IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times in a phone call Tuesday. “In a lot of situations, these types of rental properties aren’t as convenient and are out of the way.”

Once completed, IHT will enter into an agreement with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority to provide the building’s rental management services. Mr. Jordi said the apartments would be rented to qualified applicants who earn 80 percent or less of the area median income (AMI), which is no more than $48,000 for a single person or $55,000 for a couple. Rent would be $1,016 monthly.

The Martha’s Vineyard Housing Needs Assessment, completed last year, showed that the biggest need for affordable rental apartments is for households earning 60 percent or less of the AMI, Mr. Jordi said. With that in mind, IHT plans to seek additional grant funding for the Water Street housing project, in order to reduce its overall cost and lower rents to $700 to $800 monthly, to serve applicants at the 60 percent or less AMI level.

Why a DRI?

The project was referred to the MVC for review by Tisbury building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick based on the commission’s DRI checklist. The project did not trigger review as a residential development because it has less than 10 units, but because of another DRI trigger regarding development that increases a property’s “intensity in use.” At the recommendation of the MVC’s land use planning committee, the full commission voted on June 19 that the project required a public hearing.

“The commission said they ultimately decided to review the project because of its location near Five Corners,” Mr. Jordi said.

The hearing starts at 7:30 pm in the commission’s meeting room in the Stone Building at 33 New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

No parking a plus and minus

Given the property’s proximity to the busy Five Corners intersection, Mr. Jordi said the affordable housing would probably be more suitable for individuals or couples.

“This project is not for everyone, because we won’t have parking on the site,” Mr. Jordi said. “But it will help provide affordable housing in downtown Vineyard Haven, without adding to the traffic in an already congested area.”

To limit and mitigate the impacts of the housing complex on Five Corners traffic, there is only one parking place on the property for services and deliveries, dropping off residents, and handicapped accessibility. However, Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) buses that run frequently on Water Street will provide residents with access to bus routes Island-wide and to Tisbury’s park and ride lot off State Road, if they do have cars. IHT also has requested that Tisbury extend its existing Spring Street parking permit program to future Water Street residents.

This week, IHT submitted a list of nine offers for the MVC’s consideration as possible conditions for the DRI’s approval, which Mr. Jordi said resulted from pre-public hearing discussions with the LUPC. The offers were already incorporated into the original plan.

“We’re really pleased by the process,” Mr. Jordi said. “I think it has made this a better project, because it required us to keep working at it. The LUPC had some good suggestions.”

Asked what specifically IHT added or changed that was not already part of the plan, Mr. Jordi said, “We agreed to have archaeological monitoring during the excavation for the foundation pilings, and to require that vehicles entering the property by turning right off Water Street and exit the property by turning right onto Water Street.”

Mr. Jordi said IHT hopes to get the project expedited quickly through the MVC, so it can go to the town for public review in advance of the state funding process, which begins in the fall.

A donation with strings attached

IHT’s is not the first project proposed for the property and reviewed by the MVC. In 2008, AA Car Rental purchased an option on the same property, with the intent to build a new single three-story multi-use structure with a rental car business on the first floor and two apartments upstairs, according to the MVC’s June 27 staff report.

The MVC reviewed the project as a DRI and approved it with conditions, but the permit was never acted on. Although it would have expired in August 2010, it was extended for four years by the State Permit Extension Act.

In 2012, Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier purchased the house and land at 6 Water Street for $700,000. Mr. Bernier said he bought the property to thwart plans announced in the spring of 2011 by Stop & Shop Supermarket Company to expand its Vineyard Haven store.

In May 2012 he donated the property to IHT, with a deed restricting all or part of its use to affordable housing. The deed also contains a restriction against using the property for anything related to the supermarket business or for any business that would compete with Cronig’s Market.

IHT gratefully accepted Mr. Bernier’s gift, which turned out to be a mixed blessing in face of the challenges posed by the property’s location. On the plus side, the site will offer residents easy access to jobs, stores, services, and public transportation in downtown Vineyard Haven. On the minus side are a lack of parking, heavy traffic and associated noise, coastal flooding, and quality of life near the busy, often congested Five Corners area. Those are among the key issues listed under planning concerns in the MVC staff report.

The Tisbury Planning Board and zoning board of appeals determined they could not issue a special permit for the project under the town’s existing zoning bylaws. IHT then applied for a 40B comprehensive permit to the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which issued a site eligibility letter on May 12.

The building’s design stemmed from a unique process that involved the Island community. IHT put out a request for design proposals in March 2013 and narrowed the applicants down to three, architects James Weisman of Terrain Associates in Vineyard Haven and Dudley Cannada of Edgartown, and a building/design team led by Farley Pedler, owner of Farley Built, Inc., in West Tisbury.

After consultation with Tisbury’s Planning Board, Historic Commission, and Affordable Housing Committee, and review of public comments, IHT selected Mr. Weisman’s design.