Edgartown affordable-housing committee will re-evaluate Meshacket development

Edgartown residents, and housing advocates aired concerns and voiced support for a proposed Meshacket Road affordable housing development. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Members of the Edgartown affordable housing committee promised they will re-evaluate plans for a 30-unit apartment rental complex on a town-owned parcel off Meshacket Road, following a spirited discussion with neighbors and housing advocates at a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 18.

Chairman Mark Hess also told the packed meeting room that the proposal would likely be submitted to a future town meeting for debate and approval, because the proposal has changed since voters approved transfer of the nine-acre parcel to the affordable housing committee at the 2012 Edgartown annual town meeting. At the time there was discussion about creating nine building lots on the parcel, to be sold at below-market rates to qualified buyers who would then build their own homes.

The committee said it ran into engineering and environmental limitations which changed the original concept. The Martha’s Vineyard 2014 Housing Needs Assessment also swayed the committee’s view. That study, funded by the six Island towns, highlighted a greater need for rental units, according to committee members.

Mr. Hess stressed that the committee is not bound by the latest plan for rental housing, and is open to considering other options.

“Our goal is to do what is reasonable, right, and practical,” Mr. Hess said. “The committee has explored many plans, and hasn’t settled on any one plan. We have not made any final determination. It’s a town issue, it’s a town project.”

Some neighbors objected to the density of the current proposal, which would create 52 bedrooms in five buildings clustered close to Meshacket Road. A recreational area and protected habitat would be sited at the rear of the parcel.

Others told the committee they object to the project because they believe it will create more traffic on the narrow, winding roadway.

“The traffic on that road is horrendous,” said Paul Hudson who lives on Meshacket Road. “I can’t walk my dog down that road. I was all for this project, people need housing. But it has turned into something else.”

Mr. Hess noted that nearly all of the correspondence to the affordable housing committee cited traffic as an objection.

Doug Ruskin, a former member of the committee, said traffic concerns are a separate issue.

“Traffic is a problem for the same reason that we need affordable housing,” Mr. Ruskin said. “We have more people arriving all the time. I think the traffic problem needs to be dealt with, but I don’t think you can put the solution to traffic on the backs of developers. You can’t ignore it, but I don’t think a traffic problem should knock a development out of the box.”

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, said some towns have moved away from creating single-family houses to address the need for affordable housing, because even at subsidized rates, people who may qualify according to income guidelines cannot get financing to buy the homes.

Mr. Vigneault said currently, there are 265 households on the housing authority’s list of people waiting for subsidized rental housing.

“Of those, 50 have current physical addresses in Edgartown,” Mr. Vigneault said. “Forty-three of those 50 current Edgartown residents have incomes below 60 percent of the area median income. That is, depending on the size of the family, $37,000 to $48,000. Banks are not going to lend on these incomes.”

Fern Thomas said she is one of those people who would like to own a home, but sees rental housing as her only practical option.

“When they advertise the opportunity to own my own home, there are quite a few of my equals, my friends got all excited,” Ms. Thomas said. “We went down to the meeting, we can’t meet the criteria. I’m one of the lucky ones that has been able to live at Morgan Woods. Every year my rent goes up. For the past three years, my income has gone down. I don’t need two bedrooms, I’m looking for a one bedroom, that’s not that easy. I am not alone.”

Micah Agnoli told the committee he is the kind of person that the original concept of creating home lots was intended to help.

“I’m one of those young people looking to move back,” he said. “It’s a constant discussion among my friends. They benefit from home ownership, and not necessarily from rentals.”

Several neighbors suggested the Jenney Way development, a cluster of 10 homes off Pine Street in Edgartown completed in 2008, as a more appropriate model for development of the Meshacket Road parcel.

Committee member Melissa Vincent said the demand for home ownership at Jenney Way was less than expected, because few people could qualify for financing.

“We had five subsidies, and we had six applicants,” Ms. Vincent said. “We could have come up with other subsidies, but we didn’t have any more applicants. We were surprised as a committee.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa, who attended the forum, said the town is pursuing several parcels in Edgartown that may be seized because the owners have not paid taxes on the property. She said those lots may present opportunities for homeownership.

“Selectmen are very aware, and are looking into other opportunities with some of the tax title properties coming to the town,” Ms. Serpa told the affordable housing committee. “It’s certainly not something we are, and your committee is, ignoring.”

The committee said it plans to hold further public forums as the plans for the development progress, and invited anyone interested in the issue to attend meetings of the affordable housing committee. The committee meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 3:30 pm, at town hall.

In the original online version of this story, the quote attributed to Micah Agnoli, was incorrectly attributed to Jeff Agnoli.