Oak Bluffs approves housing production plan

Planning board also addresses town hall, Tabernacle, and replacing a member.

Courtesy MVC

Two days after the board of selectmen approved it, the Oak Bluffs planning board on Thursday unanimously approved the town’s housing production plan (HPP) with the revised language supported by selectmen. The plan, which was born out of research done by consultant hired by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), sets the agenda for the town’s affordable housing.

Language was modified to address concerns about compliance with the housing production plan, Ewell Hopkins, planning board chairman, said. “This housing production plan is a state-recognized planning tool that under certain circumstances permits the town to influence the location, type, and pace of affordable housing development,” Mr. Hopkins said. “This HPP is based upon a comprehensive Island-wide housing needs assessment prepared in 2013, and provides a detailed analysis of development constraints due to infrastructure capacity, environmental constraints, and protection of open space and regulatory barriers.”

The plan describes potential options the town may use to plan, create, and preserve affordable housing, he said. Once a plan is certified by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, then a denial of a comprehensive permit will be upheld if a developer’s application doesn’t meet local needs, Mr. Hopkins said.

The HPP calls for producing 11 units that count on the state’s subsidized housing inventory for a one-year certification, and 22 units for a two-year certification, Mr. Hopkins said.

“The changes were proposed and added and, ultimately, voted by the board of selectmen, basically to still give us the flexibility for this to be a document that is a guide rather than the bible,” Mr. Packish said.

After the vote, Mr. Hopkins said, “The HPP has been certified. Oak Bluffs has an HPP. Congratulations, I’m pretty excited about that.”

“Piece of the puzzle,” added planning board member Erik Albert.


Moving forward on town hall

The planning board also discussed moving forward with its review of the Oak Bluffs town hall project. The $9.9 million project was recently approved by the MVC, and a written decision is expected at the commission’s Nov. 2 meeting.

Once that decision is received, the planning board will do a site review, Mr. Hopkins said. New, updated drawings reflecting changes made by the commission will be requested for the board, he said.

Brian Packish, who serves as both a selectman and a planning board member, suggested the planning board begin its review of the town hall plans on Nov. 9. Other applicants are never considered until the commission’s decision is in hand, he said.

“One of my big issues with how this process has been is that this is an example of rule makers being exempt from the rules,” Mr. Packish said. “Stop & Shop has been bogged down for months, and they’re bogged down for months again. It’s important to create a process that’s fair and consistent and equal for everyone.”

Other board members said they looked forward to moving the project forward.

“Let’s get it done, sooner’s better,” Mr. Albert said.

Steve Auerbach, a member of the town’s building committee, told the board he appreciated the board’s timeline. “Hopefully we can address all the questions you might have and make any necessary changes,” he said.


Further review needed on Tabernacle

The planning board also heard from zoning board of appeals chairman Joseph Re that a project proposed for the Tabernacle has to go before the planning board first.

The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association is proposing a 1,000 square foot addition to The Tabernacle, though the details were not discussed.

“We had to put the brakes on the application, and I talked to town counsel,” Mr. Re said. The project sequence is out of order because Mr. Hopkins raised concerns about a change of use, he said.

C.J. Rivard, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, was at the meeting, but not asked to elaborate on the plans.

“I’m really hopeful it includes public bathrooms,” Mr. Packish said. “Because there’s a desperate need for that in the Campgrounds.”

Richard Toole, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said he’d like to see the campgrounds eliminate the portable toilets it uses.

In an email to the Times, Ms. Rivard wrote that there are no specific plans for the addition to The Tabernacle yet. The association went to the zoning board because part of the proposed addition would be in the floodplain.

“I don’t believe we will have an application together and a more robust plan to share with the planning board and others who are interested, for several months,” she wrote.

Mr. Re questioned what impact the addition might have on the Tabernacle’s historic designation, noting that it’s on both the National Register of Historic Places and Save America’s Treasures. “They’re picky about what you do once they put you on the register,” he said.

In other business, the planning board also met for the first time four potential candidates to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Jeremiah McCarthy. Ultimately, the planning board and selectmen will have to vote on a replacement, who will be in place only through the next town election in April, Mr. Hopkins said.

Brian Smith, Barbara Thornton, David Kopp, and Tom Zinno were at the board’s meeting to introduce themselves and provide some perspective on why they want the position.

Mr. Smith, a three-year resident of Oak Bluffs, said he previously served as West Tisbury’s representative to the MVC. He said he’s looking for a way to serve Oak Bluffs.

Ms. Thornton, who is retired and has lived in town since 2008, said her family’s lineage can be traced back to the 1880s in Oak Bluffs.

Two-year resident Mr. Kopp said he has gone before planning boards as a commercial real estate developer, and he would like to share that perspective on the board.

Mr. Zinno said his interest in zoning issues is driving his interest.

Michael Murphy, a fifth man in the audience, said he is interested in the planning board administrative assistant position that’s been advertised. That position was not under discussion. Mr. Murphy, who once served as town planner in Falmouth, said he’s not interested in the volunteer position.

While there are already four candidates, Mr. Hopkins said he will advertise the position and see if there are any additional candidates before bringing candidates forward.