IHT says Tisbury ZBA conditions will make or break Water Street project

File photo by Michael Cummo

Following a two-year planning, financing, and permitting process and with the end in sight, what the Island Housing Trust (IHT) thought was the light at the end of the tunnel for their affordable rental apartment project on Water Street in Vineyard Haven may be a train. IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times this week that the Tisbury Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is contemplating conditions for the project that would render the project no longer financially viable.

“To do these types of projects we need to have equal sums of money invested locally as well as on the state level,” Mr. Jordi told The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “To make this feasible from the state’s perspective, we need to have at least five or more units. That’s the threshold.”

The ZBA is scheduled to meet and render a decision on a comprehensive permit at a meeting at 10 am on Friday at the town hall annex off High Point Lane. ZBA officials said the meeting time, in the morning during working hours, best accommodates the board member’s schedules.

IHT proposes to build a six-unit, two-story, 3,600-square-foot building on the site of a decrepit house adjacent to the Stop & Shop. There would be no onsite parking, other than a temporary parking spot for deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs.

IHT received site eligibility approval for the project from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) last May. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) unanimously approved the project on July 17.

IHT is seeking a comprehensive permit from the ZBA through Chapter 40B, a state statute that enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

Tisbury’s ZBA, the last stop on the permitting trail, opened its public hearing on August 14 and closed it on September 11. At its next meeting on September 23, on the advice of lawyer Ilana Quirk, the board voted to reopen the hearing in order to obtain new information from Mr. Jordi that included additional project financial analyses to show how the conditions would impact project costs.

Ms. Quirk cautioned that if a condition or set of conditions would render the project more uneconomic, the board would need to justify whatever it was imposing with evidence of local concerns that would outweigh the regional need for affordable housing.

The ZBA agreed on a set of possible conditions that included a reduction in the number of units from six to four; adding four on-site parking spaces; mitigating vibrations from street traffic; and working with the town and neighboring property owners to install a new sidewalk to the corner of Beach Street. The board asked Mr. Jordi to provide project pro formas to show how the conditions would impact costs, and scheduled the Friday hearing to review the new information and make a decision.

Costs rise

On September 29, Mr. Jordi submitted three financial statements to the ZBA. One described the project as submitted for the original six-unit rental project to the state Department of Housing and Community Development last May. Mr. Jordi noted that the application guidelines for state funding require a five-unit minimum for rental housing projects. Building six units would also work better for modular construction, which is less expensive.

The second financial analysis was based on the proposed ZBA conditions. “The revised pro forma shows a project shortfall of $291,590 that is mainly due to the loss of state DHCD grant funding resulting from the project’s ineligibility under the attached HSF [Housing Stabilization Funding] guidelines,” Mr. Jordi said in his submission. “This budget shortfall makes the project impossible to proceed and is ‘uneconomic.'”

The third statement includes the original six-unit project, with the addition of the cost of year-round parking for the tenants at Tisbury’s park and ride lot off High Point Lane.

“The $350 annual parking permit cost per car is included in the pro forma, resulting in a $30,000 budget shortfall,” Mr. Jordi said. In regard to noise and vibration mitigation, he added that IHT plans for the building to have 9 inches of insulated walls, floors and ceilings, and triple glazed windows.

Mr. Jordi followed up the submissions with an email dated October 3 to the ZBA. “After meeting with the Island Housing Trust’s Project Development Committee this week,” he wrote, “it was determined that fewer than six apartments renders the project uneconomic; parking for more than one car within the proposed site plan is not feasible; and adding more on-site parking to an already failed traffic area is not in our tenants or the public’s best interest.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Jordi said he will be accompanied at Friday’s hearing by an attorney from the Lawyers Clearinghouse, an organization that matches pro bono lawyers with nonprofits and the homeless. Mr. Jordi described IHT’s options.

“In the very unfortunate situation that this is either denied or conditioned in such a way that makes the project unworkable, we have the ability to appeal through what’s called the Housing Appeals Committee, something set up specifically for the 40B process, through the State Department of Housing and Community Development,” Mr. Jordi said. “We’ve never had to do this, and we hope we never will, but it is an option if we’re forced to.”

Collaborative effort

IHT began planning the Water Street project after it received a donation of an uninhabitable house and property in 2012 from Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier, with a deed restricting all or part of its use to affordable housing.

IHT invited several local architects to come up with conceptual designs and held public meetings for neighboring property owners and the public. IHT also worked closely with Tisbury’s Affordable Housing Committee, Planning Board, Historic Commission, and building department to come up with the preferred design.

To gauge the amount of interest in the Water Street apartments, IHT conducted a survey of nearly 100 one- and two-person households on the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental wait list.

“The overwhelming majority (66 percent) of those who responded were very interested in renting in downtown Vineyard Haven at the proposed Water Street apartments with no on-site parking, 5 percent were somewhat interested, and 29 percent were not interested,” Mr. Jordi said in an email dated October 3 responding to questions from the ZBA.