Against selling town land at low prices

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To the Editor:

This is addressed in particular to all Edgartown taxpayers. In this time of political upheaval and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to speak out. I sent the following letter to the Edgartown selectmen:

I am writing to express extreme dissatisfaction with your proposed sale of three town lots on 6th Street as recently advertised. I don’t believe the sale of town-owned property at a significant discount with extremely limited restriction is in the best interest of the taxpayers (of which I am one), nor is it fundamentally fair. I have several specific concerns:

With a 10-year deed restriction, the sale of town assets at a large discount from current market value provides a significant profit to any recipient, which does a disservice to taxpayers, and I believe is not in the best interest of the town or community. At today’s land value, your $75,000 offering per lot provides at least a $150,000 windfall, not including the likely increase in value over 10 years. It is an inappropriate use of town assets to provide such a profit to a select few.

The warrant articles from the 2013 annual town meeting state the use of the land as “for affordable housing purposes.” Currently “affordable housing” is generally considered to be property offered to families under 80 percent of the annual median income (AMI). Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds used for “community housing” are limited to 100 percent AMI or less. The advertising states a requirement of under 150 percent AMI. Nowhere in the ad or the application packet did I see “affordable housing” or mention of fair housing or equal opportunity. This contravenes the intent of the warrant article.

In The MV Times article dated Oct. 12 (“Edgartown will sell three half-acre lots in housing lottery”), selectman Art Smadbeck is quoted as saying, “If we put a permanent deed restriction on the lot, they can’t get a mortgage to send their kids to college.” That is certainly not stated in the warrant articles, and I don’t think it’s the town’s business to create a mechanism for funding tuition — and especially not at taxpayers’ expense.

After consulting with multiple legal advisors, I believe the five-year residency requirement is not compliant with fair housing laws, and I believe it to be unconstitutional.

If it is desired to provide “affordable housing” to those truly in need of housing, of which there are hundreds, it does not make sense to include current affordable housing occupants, who by definition have stable housing. And it smacks of favoritism.

To conclude, I think that the actual offer of three lots misrepresents the intent of articles 22 and 23 of the 2013 annual town meeting. The offer should be rescinded and replaced with one that is in keeping with current affordable housing practices and fair housing laws. At the very least, it should be put before a new town meeting, as I am sure that the 2013 voters did not expect to be giving away town assets after 10 years.

Doug Ruskin

West Tisbury and Edgartown