Another setback for Kuehn’s Way as abutters appeal ZBA decision

Abutters’ attorney called Tisbury ZBA review of the affordable housing project “inadequate.”

The proposed site for the Kuehn's way affordable housing units. — Philippe Jordi

The decision to go ahead with Kuehn’s Way, a 20-unit, $6.3 million affordable housing project proposed by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) for a site off State Road in Tisbury — which was unanimously approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commision (MVC) and the Tisbury Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) — has been appealed by several abutters.

IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times on Wednesday, Nov. 30, that abutters appealed the project as a whole, mainly due to its density, the traffic it would create, and its water-quality issues. The project at Kuehn’s Way had reduced its number of units from the previous Bridge Commons project, which had 30 units. Mr. Jordi said IHT has worked hard to mitigate and minimize impacts on neighbors.

Yet abutters believe that a project of this scale requires more thought than it was given. Tisbury resident Alec Gale is one of the plaintiffs of the appeal. He lives on Deer Hill Road, and is the second closest abutter to the proposed project. Three residents — Robert Dias, Kristen Kingsbury Henshaw, and Mr. Gale — are listed as plaintiffs, but Mr. Gale told The Times on Friday that they represent a larger group.

Mr. Gale said he understood the need for affordable housing on the Island; however, he was concerned that the size of the project — estimating that as many as 80 people could reside on the 4.5 acres the project would be sited on — could affect the wellbeing of his family and neighbors if their drinking water was compromised.

“I’m not against the cause, I’m more against the scale of the project,” Mr. Gale said.

Abutters are concerned that the septic systems at Kuehn’s Way could fail or cause a septic plume. Another major concern is the dumping of household chemicals or prescription drugs down the drains, eventually leaking into the groundwater.

Abutters have called Kuehn’s Way IHT’s biggest project to date, and they believe that a project that size shouldn’t be placed in such a rural area, especially in a watershed district.

“This is a restricted area,” Mr. Gale said. “You can’t even build a guesthouse on less than an acre and a half of land, because it’s over the watershed.”

He suggested the project be sited closer to town water and sewering, or that IHT utilize houses already built on the Vineyard, instead of constructing new developments on open land.

Abutters are both disconcerted with and confused by the decisions of the MVC and the zoning board of appeals.

“The cause is kind of blinding everybody in actually thinking this thing through,” Mr. Gale said.

In a phone conversation with the Times last week, abutters’ attorney Daniel Hill of Cambridge said they appealed the decision based on what he called “a lack of scrutiny” by the ZBA. Mr. Hill said only two meetings were held regarding Kuehn’s Way, and there were no independent peer reviews of the project or the impacts on neighboring septic systems and wells.

“We feel that given the inadequate review of the zoning board, our clients’ interests were not being protected,” Mr. Hill said.

However, the project falls under Chapter 40B of state law, which allows affordable housing projects like Kuehn’s Way to bypass certain requirements, in this case allowing a higher density and rate of development. Susan Fairbanks, a member of the Tisbury ZBA, told The Times on Wednesday it was for that reason that the board had a limited ability to change certain aspects of the project.

“I feel we did what we could to try to make sure abutters were protected,” Ms. Fairbanks said.

The ZBA held two lengthy meetings for the project. During the first meeting in September, the ZBA asked IHT to show them what a possible reduction in units would look like — from 20 to 16 units. The IHT executive director, Mr. Jordi, had said any reduction would push up unit costs and hinder efforts to seek state financing.

Mr. Jordi told The Times last week that IHT, using free legal services from Boston law firm Nixon Peabody, is confident that the appeal will be dismissed.

“We will be requesting that the appeal be dismissed from Land Court, and we don’t feel like there’s any reason why it wouldn’t be,” Mr. Jordi said.