Oak Bluffs selectmen weigh in on Southern Woodlands subdivision

Oak Bluffs harbor is a popular place in the summer. Harbor revenue is up this year. File photo by Dick Iacovello

Although Oak Bluffs selectmen appeared to have a typically light midsummer agenda for their Tuesday-night meeting, they addressed some weighty issues, in particular the affordable housing component tied to the pending sale of the Southern Woodlands subdivision.

The buyers and the sellers of the long-dormant 26-lot subdivision off County Road named the Preserve at the Woodlands are now before the Oak Bluffs planning board. At issue is the validity of the special permit issued in 2004 and the degree to which the planning board may amend the attached conditions, including an affordable housing contribution.

Sellers of the $5.15 million note on the property have threatened legal action if the board voids the special permit.

The board expected to debate whether or not to endorse the $480,000 cash contribution to the Oak Bluffs Housing Trust the stakeholders offered at last Thursday’s planning board meeting. However, planning board Chairman Brian Packish told selectmen that Geoghan Coogan, attorney for the buyer, Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner Paul Adamson, had upped the offer to $650,000 minutes before the meeting.

Town Administrator Robert Whritenour said that per the town “Flexible Development” bylaw, which was approved at town meeting in 2004, Oak Bluffs is entitled to 10 percent of the proposed 26-unit housing inventory, which is two finished units.

At last Thursday’s planning board meeting, Mr. Coogan said his client was not willing to give up land, but was open to making financial remuneration to the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust (OBAHT). Mr. Whritenour told selectmen that Town Assessor David Bailey calculated the current value per lot to be $440,000, and thus the affordable housing component for the deal should be $880,000, per town bylaw.

Selectman Kathy Burton, a real estate agent in Oak Bluffs for many years prior to joining Santander Bank, said the $440,000 lot price was “very fair.”

Rather than press for 10 percent of the value of two “units” at the planned luxury development, the consensus was that the OBAHT would receive the much-needed funding much faster if the deal went by lot value.

“I can’t speak for the rest of the [planning] board, but I know this offer is a lot more in line,” Mr. Packish said. “This is a significant improvement.”

The original deal approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the planning board included an initial payment of $100,000, $10,000 per lot per sale, and a $500 affordable housing fee that would accrue annually, to be paid in full when an owner of one of the properties sold it. Town officials agreed that the affordable housing contribution should be one lump sum.

“The accrual process creates a lot of murky water,” Mr. Packish said. “Let’s get the money up front so we can begin to develop affordable housing.”

From a procedural standpoint, the discussion was part of a meeting with the OBAHT because the trust is comprised of the board, Town Assessor David Bailey, and Planning Board Member Ewell Hopkins, and is chaired by Marie Doubleday, who was also present.

In a procedural matter, selectman Walter Vail motioned that the OBAHT recommend the selectmen endorse the $880,000 affordable housing component of the Southern Woodland subdivision deal.

The selectmen then unanimously voted, 5-0, to endorse the $880,000 figure to the planning board, which must ultimately make the final decision.

The planning board is scheduled to meet this Thursday night in town hall.

Chief gets five years

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to approve a new five-year contract with Police Chief Erik Blake, retroactive to July 1, worth $153,00. Chief Blake’s previous contract was for three years.

Chief Blake’s base salary for FY16 will be $127,000, up 6 percent from his $117,300 base salary in FY15. He will receive an additional 20 percent over his base salary per the Quinn bill, which requires participating municipalities to provide 10 to 25 percent salary increases to police officers who obtain advanced degrees in criminal justice. Chief Blake has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Western New England College.

If he receives a positive performance review from the selectmen next year, he will be awarded a 3 percent raise, and then receive cost-of-living increases commensurate with other town department heads for the rest of the contract.

“It’s great to have the chief locked in for another five years,” Town Administrator Robert Whritenour told the Times on Wednesday. “It shows the selectmen have a high degree of confidence in the overall direction of the department. We have a very busy department for such a small town, and it’s the only police department on the Island that is certified by the state.”

Chief Blake in turn had good news for the selectmen when he petitioned the board for permission to accept an anonymous $5,000 donation which would be used to help build a new police shooting range planned for town-owned property near the airport. Selectmen unanimously approved.

Mr. Whritenour informed selectmen that revenue from the harbor fuel facility has substantially exceeded financial projections. He noted that the facility has been beating projections since the preconstruction phase, when bids came in 25 percent lower than the budgeted amount.

“We’ve more than doubled our performance projections since we opened last June,” Mr. Whritenour said.

In a subsequent interview with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Whritenour said anticipated total gross revenues in FY15 were $249,600, and actual revenues were $389,022.

“We had anticipated a net loss of $14,345 but instead we made approximately $125,000 profit, which also factors in debt-service costs. We anticipated selling about 60,000 gallons of fuel, and we’re closer to 100,000.” Mr. Whritenour added that the harbor is sold out through the end of the summer, and demand for slips has far outstripped supply, and limits potential profits.

Per the unanimous vote of the Roads and By-Ways Committee, selectmen voted unanimously for the creation of two new pedestrian crossings, one on Vineyard Avenue near the intersection with County Road, and the other on County Road between Vineyard Avenue and Carole Avenue. The impetus for the new crosswalks was a petition started by Bettie Eubanks that garnered over 100 signatures. The crosswalks should be in place by August 1.