Martha’s Vineyard Commission approves Water Street affordable housing project

Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi (right) and board president Richard Leonard received the go ahead from the Martha's Vineyard Commission to build six affordable housing apartments on Water Street in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Nathaniel Horwitz

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted unanimously last Thursday, July 17, in favor of an Island Housing Trust (IHT) proposal to construct a six-unit affordable housing rental apartment building on the site of an uninhabitable house at 6 Water Street in Vineyard Haven.

IHT executive director Philippe Jordi and IHT board chairman Richard Leonard sat for half an hour as the commissioners discussed their concerns, and conducted an analysis of the project’s benefits and detriments, then voted in favor of the project, which was reviewed as a development of regional impact (DRI). Commissioners voted not to waive the MVC permitting fee.

MVC action followed a public hearing on the project on July 10 that involved several lines of questioning including the scope of the project and greenery. On Thursday night commissioners once again plowed into the details

More bang for the buck

“Will stormwater be managed completely on site?” asked Christina Brown of Edgartown.

“That’s what they offered to do,” said MVC chairman Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs.

Trip Barnes of West Tisbury, an advocate of more apartments, made a motion to require IHT to increase the number of apartments.

“If you moved it back four feet you could put eight in very comfortably and with the pages and pages of people looking for affordable housing, the constant editorials in the paper, I think this should be put on hold until we get 8 in there, more bang for the buck,” he said. “I don’t care if we have to start over again, because I feel very strongly.”

Brian Smith of West Tisbury seconded the motion for the sake of discussion. “The applicant has brought his plan to us,” said Mr. Hancock. “This is their plan. The charge that we have is to vote on the project as proposed. If you think this proposal is not worthy, you can vote against it.” Mr. Barnes was the sole vote in favor of his motion.

Details in the wording

Mr. Smith was concerned about traffic.

“Where it says one temporary parking space, it’s not one temporary parking space,” he said. “It’s a parking space meant to be temporary. I don’t know how to word that better.”

Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, a veteran MVC member who chairs the land use planning committee (LUPC), replied that in the previous meeting the MVC had clarified that the parking space itself is permanent, but parking in the space is temporary. “That’s the intent,” she said.

“Twenty years from now someone’s going to say I thought that parking space was supposed to leave,” Mr. Smith said. Several commissioners shouted out ideas for rewording.

“Everyone is talking at once,” said Mr. Hancock.

“It’s a drop-off space,” said Ms. Sibley.

“Loading and unloading,” suggested Mr. Hancock.

“One temporary loading space,” said Ms. Sibley.

“It’s not temporary,” a couple of commissioners said.

“It’s one temporary loading space,” repeated Ms. Sibley. “That’s also going to be approved by the LUPC.”

Mr. Hancock wanted to be certain that if anything of archaeological significance to the Wampanoag tribe was found, “they would have the power to stop work.”

“How about suspend,” said MVC member Josh Goldstein of Tisbury. “We don’t like to stop things.”

MVC member James Vercruysse of Aquinnah asked about the lighting. “It’s three feet above the ground,” he said. “Is the other lighting going to be adequate?”

Ms. Sibley replied, “That’s landscape lighting. There’s exterior lighting too, the code requires sufficient lighting.”

Benefits and detriments

Mr. Hancock advanced the meeting to an analysis of benefits and detriments, including the development’s traffic impact, economic impact, burden on taxpayers, wastewater, social benefits, conforming to zoning and burden on public facilities, among others. Each issue was determined a benefit, detriment, or neutral. Most moved quickly, but the commission snagged on a couple decisions.

“Scenic value,” said Mr. Hancock after the traffic impact was determined as nonexistent and therefore positive.

“Anything is better than what’s there,” said Mr. Goldstein.

MVC member Kathy Newman of Aquinnah disagreed. “I would say it’s neutral,” she replied.

“The house needs to be torn down,” said Mr. Goldstein. “How can that be good? You can’t live in it.”

MVC member Joan Malkin of Chilmark tried to clarify the debate. “Whether you can live in it or not has nothing to do with its scenic value,” she said.

“It fits into the tradition of the surrounding buildings,” said Mr. Hancock.

Ms. Newman was not satisfied. “We should have a little more balance between benefits and detriments,” she said. “I mean, in the end …”

Mr. Hancock cut her off. “Do you want to find something wrong with it?”

Ms. Newman paused. “Well, I don’t think, yeah, I mean …”

This time Mr. Goldstein replied. “Why are we fishing for a problem with affordable housing,” he asked.

Ms. Newman answered, “I don’t think the big blocky building that’s going to be there will add to the landscape. It’ll add to affordable housing, I’m glad they’re doing it, but we should be honest about it. It’s adding more building to that downtown.”

Mr. Hancock concluded, “But it absolutely looks like other buildings in that area.”

The commission determined scenic value as neutral and Mr. Hancock moved on.

Letting go

After reviewing several other categories the MVC appeared close to a vote. “Having looked at our benefits and detriments, is there anybody else who would like to have further discussion on this before we vote,” asked Mr. Hancock.

Ms. Brown spoke after an extended pause. “When we say site design, land design, lighting will come back for approval, do we say some architectural and building design things will come back?” she asked. “I think we want to be really clear that we’re saying the architecture of the building is pretty much fine, that they can come back and say, look we’d like windows, things about the fenestration (I just wanted to use that word), window placement, window design, of course they can come back to talk, but architecturally, we’re not talking about changing the shape?”

Mr. Hancock nodded.

“And we’re clear when we say come back for landscaping and site design that we want something consistent with what they’ve already shown?” Ms. Brown asked. “Paving materials in the front, the kind of plants proposed, likely to survive, that the street trees, if they have them, will be in conjunction with the town?”

Mr. Hancock agreed again

“Their original proposal shows brick or something like brick, they have freedom to redesign the surface, but that we like the hard surface,” Ms. Brown said. “I don’t want it to turn into a lawn.”

Mr. Hancock tried to return to starting the vote on project approval.

“Did we vote on waiving the fee,” asked Mr. Vercruysse.

“Separate topic,” said Ms. Sibley.

Mr. Hancock said, “We do need to discuss that.”

Mr. Hancock asked if there were any further questions or objections to the proposal first and turned it over to Ms. Sibley.

“I motion to approve the plan with the proviso that the landscape plan, including the vehicular drop off, architectural details, and the stormwater plan will come back for review by the LUPC before a permit is issued,” she said.

Mr. Barnes was first on the roll call. “I want to go on the record that it should be eight, but I will vote for this — yes,” he said. The approval passed unanimously.

On the the subject of the permitting fee, MVC executive director Mark London said that the MVC policy for nonprofits was to charge. After a brief discussion Ms. Sibley motioned not to waive the $1,000 fee on the basis that the MVC had never done so for a nonprofit. The motion passed with three abstentions.

“You have to pay the fee,” Mr. London said to Mr. Jordi.