Oak Bluffs housing committee endorses rental development

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The shaded area shows the potential location of 32 affordable rental apartments

On Friday, the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Committee (OBAHC) unanimously voted 5-0 to begin preliminary work on a request for proposals (RFP) it plans to issue for the construction and management of 32 two-bedroom modular apartments based on town design requirements on nine acres of town-owned land on Bellevue Avenue.

The vote represents a major shift in strategy in response to a growing waiting list for rental housing. For years, the OBAHC focused on homeownership.

“It’s something that can make an actual difference to the 370-plus families that are on the waiting list right now,” OBAHC member Peter Bradford told The Times, referring to the waiting list for affordable housing maintained by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. “We know rentals are what we need to be focusing on.”

Mr. Bradford is one of several relatively new members on the affordable housing committee. “We’re kind of a revived committee, and four meetings out, everybody’s anxious to get going,” he said. Mr. Bradford presented the plan at the committee’s regular Friday’s meeting. “It’s barely in its infancy, and there’s a long way to go and a lot of details to work out,” he said. “But it’s something to get going on that shows some scale.”

Mr. Bradford said his work with the All-Island Planning Board affordable housing work group informed the proposed plan. He said his title search showed that a number of parcels on Bellevue Avenue, and small swatches of land on Grovedale Avenue and Byron Avenue, which had been vacant since 1944, had free and clear title and could be cobbled together to create the buildable acres.

“Because of the size of the hill there, it’s a nice little secluded area,” he said. “It’s really a nice piece of property. It’s very long and skinny, so I thought townhouses might be the right way to go. You could terrace them up the hill pretty easily. Initial calculations are that it could accommodate 64 bedrooms, but that’s just an estimate.”

With modular construction, Mr. Bradford estimated, the 1,000-square-foot townhouses could be built at a cost of $200 per square foot, for a total construction cost of $6.4 million.

The Island Housing Trust is currently developing six affordable modular apartments on Water Street in Vineyard Haven. Those price out at $200 per square foot, according to project general contractor Farley Pedler.

“We’d really like to set the construction cost so a developer could recoup their money and make a little money,” Mr. Bradford said. “The RFP would include how much they would pay the town for the lease on the property and how long the lease would be for. We feel like it could be a win-win situation for the developer and the town.”

As part of the deal, the developer would manage the property. “The town isn’t in a position to manage large-scale projects,” Mr. Bradford said.

Mr. Bradford said that he ran the plan by Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro, and that Mr. Barbadoro thought the unit density could be achieved through traditional flexible zoning.

“I was encouraged by reading the housing production plan on Nantucket, and some of the things they’ve done over there, like zoning changes and bringing in private money for the public good,” he said. “So I set about to try to come up with something that would attract private money to come in and build a larger-scale project and manage that project, something with real money on the table that could attract private investors to do the work. It puts us in a position to protect ourselves from unwanted 40B development, and it can help attract state funding.”

Oak Bluffs is 77 units short of reaching the 10 percent affordable housing level, which is a benchmark set by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Development (HUD). Towns with less than 10 percent affordable housing are subject to 40B development, which can allow outside developers to build affordable units with little or no input from the town.

“Affordable housing” is defined as the household earning 80 percent or less of area median income (AMI), which is no more than $48,000 for a single person or $55,000 for a couple. Mr. Bradford said discussions on the definition of the “affordable” criteria may also need to take place — Edgartown’s definition of affordable is 100 to 120 percent of AMI.

To address nitrogen capacity, Mr. Bradford said that one of the town-owned properties in the plan is part of the capped landfill. “It would be taking the nitrogen capacity from land that is already proposed for a solar array and/or parking area, and turning that into bedrooms for townspeople,” he said.

The location is also near the sewer line that runs along County Road. “If the sewer commission allowed us, we could tie into the town’s [wastewater] plant,” he said.

Mr. Bradford said that a consultant now assisting with the town’s housing production plan could help develop an RFP, and that housing committee chairman Kathy Burton is contacting the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for assistance.

When Mr. Bradford made his presentation to the OBAC on Friday, he was unaware that the the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust (OBAHT) would receive a $700,000 check hours later. The money came from a condition placed by the Oak Bluffs Planning Board on the permit for the Southern Woodlands property. Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner Paul Adamson purchased the property from Patten Companies at auction for $5.15 million last June. The purchase officially closed on Friday.

Mr. Bradford said he believes housing trust funds, which now total roughly $940,000, should be used solely on planning. “I don’t want to see us spend that money on building something,” he said. “I’d rather pass it out to a private developer, let them handle that, and leave them some money on the table. It makes sense to get that rolling and move on to something else.”

Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) Brian Packish told The Times that he supported zoning that would allow increased density in the town.

“I don’t want to talk about single-family homes anymore,” he said. “It’s going to take the community to get [apartments] built. If you’re not participating in the process, then housing isn’t going to move forward. Commenting on Facebook isn’t going to get it done.”