Tisbury ZBA approves Water Street apartment project with conditions

File photo by Michael Cummo

The Tisbury zoning board of appeals (ZBA) unanimously approved a six-unit affordable rental apartment building on Water Street at a hearing on Friday. The written decision on a comprehensive permit for the Island Housing Trust’s (IHT) project, with conditions, is expected to be finalized this week.

The initial design proposal included no onsite parking, other than a temporary parking spot for deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs. After an almost two-hour discussion, the ZBA agreed to require two additional parking spaces, and require that IHT ensure parking be available for every apartment unit off-site, whether at the Park and Ride lot or downtown.

Tisbury offers permits for residents on William Street and Main Street in Vineyard Haven to park on side streets overnight. IHT executive director Philippe Jordi said he would ask the selectmen to extend that privilege to the Water Street apartment tenants.

If that is not an option, the cost of an annual Park and Ride lot permit, which is $50 for year-round Tisbury residents, would be included in the rent. Tenants that do not own cars would be given a credit on their lease for the cost of the permit.

In addition, the ZBA agreed to require IHT to incorporate noise and vibration mitigation measures such as triple-paned windows; design a minimum of one unit according to universal design principles to enhance accessibility; prohibit delivery of modular construction materials between Memorial Day and Labor Day; and submit a landscaping plan to the board for approval.

No rubber-stamp process

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 applied for 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.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) reviewed IHT’s proposed Water Street affordable housing as a development of regional impact and approved it last July. Tisbury’s ZBA opened its public hearing on the project on August 14 and closed it on September 11.

The board reopened the hearing on September 23 in order to obtain new information from IHT executive director Philippe Jordi, particularly in regard to a proposed condition, that IHT downsize the project from six units to four units and how that would impact costs.

On Friday, Mr. Jordi explained that four units would make the project ineligible for state funding because a minimum of five is required for rental housing. The lack of onsite parking, however, proved to be the ZBA’s main point of contention.

ZBA chairman Jeff Kristal started the discussion by taking critics of the ZBA’s process to task. He said two people who attended the previous hearing session who were not present Friday had accosted two ZBA members afterwards about taking so long to make a decision.

“For anybody to say we don’t want affordable housing and we don’t want this project, we’re not a rubber stamp of the MVC, and if we were, we wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Kristal said. “We’ll look at it, we’ll make it better, just like the MVC does when they look over their projects, and we’ll all walk away hopefully happy, especially with a 40B.”

Vineyard Conservation Society President Richard Toole, a former MVC member, told Mr. Kristal that the way the commission handled the Water Street project’s review was a compliment to the ZBA, an acknowledgement that a local board could deal with the issues because it knows “the nitty-gritty” better than the commission.

“I think it was a unanimous vote by the commission; it went right through there,” Mr. Toole said. “The MVC said great, give it to you guys, and you’ll know what to do with it.”

The board’s ensuing discussion focused mainly on parking solutions.

“I’m okay with six [units], but I’m not okay with no parking,” Mr. Kristal said.

“I feel the same way,” board member Sue Fairbanks added.

Mr. Kristal argued that tenants would need a place to park temporarily after running errands, for example, to drop off groceries. He suggested that a planting area in front of the building could be reduced to gain space for parking.

Mr. Kristal, Ms. Fairbanks, and board members Mike Ciancio, Tony Holand, and Neal Stiller voted unanimously to close the public hearing and approve the decision with amendments as discussed, with the caveat that they would review the final language in another public session this week if required for clarification.

Public comments

Before the board’s deliberations, Mr. Kristal opened the floor to public comment. The hearing attracted some strong supporters who spoke in favor of the project, including Planning Board chairman Dan Seidman and board member Cheryl Doble, and Carl McLaurin, an Oak Bluffs resident who works for the state’s department of housing and community development.

“Even if there are any things you might not like about the lot, the greater good is we’re providing an excellent location that’s going to be easy for people to live in and meet their needs in all different ways,” Mr. Seidman said.

“Although I know some people think we’re against housing, we’re just against housing in the wrong place,” Mr. Toole said. “We think this project is in the right place. It’s smart growth. Keep new growth in town, and let rural areas stay as rural as possible.”

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the agency that will manage the apartment building for IHT, spoke of the current need for affordable housing, especially for households with income below 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Mr. Vigneault said the housing authority’s wait list has a total of 63 one-person households and 60 two-person households Island-wide that could make use of the apartments. Of those, 25 one-person households and 11 two-person households are in Tisbury.

Although he did not know how many on the waiting list own cars, Mr. Vigneault said, “People live where they can and they’re pretty happy to get the rents that IHT is offering here.”

Tisbury resident Mary McManama said she was fortunate enough to find a small studio apartment she can afford with the housing authority’s help, and would love to live in one of the Water Street apartments. “I have a car but could make arrangements to keep it somewhere other than where I live, if I needed to,” she said.

“Any more cars added to Five Corners, even three, is more traffic, and traffic and the number of cars there is already a problem,” IHT chairman Richard Leonard reminded everyone. “Plenty of people indicated they’d live there without parking, and there are solutions available for them.”