Oak Bluffs finishes stale ‘doughnut hole’ swap

Agreement paves way for MassHousing grant.

Oak Bluffs selectmen covered a diverse agenda Tuesday, covering a land transfer with the Land Bank, kickoff of a housing grant, and a pair of $1 million dollar grants. — Brian Dowd

Oak Bluffs officials ironed out complicated property issues with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank on several parcels of land in the Southern Woodlands Reservation.

The first issue concerned two 24-acre lots of land that were to be swapped with the Land Bank. In the original 2004 agreement with the Land Bank, the town-owned parcel — known in local argot as the “doughnut hole” due to its landlocked location — was to be swapped with the Land Bank–owned parcel.

The original 2004 agreement to have Oak Bluffs swap parcel ‘S’ with the Land Bank for parcel ‘T.’

The swap would give the town land that abuts property it already owns with access to Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, while the Land Bank would absorb the “doughnut hole” property into conservation.

But that 2004 swap was never completed due to “perceived defects” with the ownership and the title for the landlocked parcel, according to town administrator Bob Whritenour. After consulting with town counsel and a title insurance company earlier this year, the town was able to get clear title to the property.

Another snag that dragged the deal out for several years was $132,000 owed in back taxes on the Land Bank parcel at the time of the transfer. The Land Bank indicated it would have paid the taxes, but was not aware if they were owed because of a municipal lien certificate issued at the time. Now, 15 years later, an additional $422,000 in interest and penalties fees had accrued.

Selectmen approved the fee waiver, after getting clearance by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, and will now petition the state legislature for permission to swap the land parcels.

A separate issue concerned title issues with land parcels 43-53 and 42-1 that abut County Road. The parcels were originally deeded to the town as open space in 2000, but the person that deeded the land did not actually have a title to it. When the town discovered this, officials asked the Land Bank to purchase the property from the actual title holder.

Whritenour referred to the issues as “all the laundry that didn’t get completely washed” during the initial deal.

Selectmen approved having assessors list the County Road parcels as Land Bank.

A wave of relief rushed through the selectmen’s meeting room after the land issues were settled. “This is huge,” Ewell Hopkins, chairman of the planning board, said while clapping his hands.

“This is the end of the big ‘doughnut hole,’” selectmen Chairman Gail Barmakian said.

The good times rolled for Oak Bluffs Tuesday when the town announced the kickoff of a $100,000 housing grant.

Affordable housing committee member Karen Tewhey applied for a Housing Production grant through MassHousing, a quasi-public agency committed to providing financing for affordable housing in Massachusetts.

Oak Bluffs is one of the first communities, along with Tisbury, to be funded by the grant, Greg Watson, MassHousing’s manager of planning and programs, said. The grant is designed to support work the town has already done in affordable housing planning.

Selectmen held a joint meeting with the planning board and affordable housing committee to talk with representatives from RKG Associates, an economic planning and real estate consultant based in Boston, about town-owned land on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road that will be developed into affordable housing.

The roughly 8-acre property was included in the town’s grant application as a potential site for affordable housing.

An at-capacity sewer system, endangered species, nitrogen-loading issues, and traffic access were some of the problems RKG identified in its study of the property. RKG has Weston & Sampson, an engineering firm, on board to study the property.

RKG said there are different options the town can look at for the property in terms of development, but everyone’s sights were set on some form of affordable rental units. RKG was transparent about their unfamiliarity with the Island, but said they were open to working with the public and Island housing agencies like the Island Housing Trust and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission over the next 10 to 12 months.

“I think that almost everybody here will agree that these will probably be rental units. Low-income housing rentals, because we have very few of those here,” housing committee member Jim Bishop said.

“It’s really critical for you to understand the uniquenesses of this Island community and the housing work that is already taking place,” Hopkins said. “There’s other potential partners in collaboration that you should be leveraging right outside the gate.”

In other business, building committee chairman Bill McGrath updated selectmen on the new town hall project.

The general contracting bid for the project will open on Sept. 13.

Benjamin Nadelstein, a high school student and member of the Soundwave a capella group, went before selectmen to discuss potential changes to the town’s street performance laws, such as lowering permit fees and group licensing.

Selectmen asked Nadelstein to write out a list of requests for them to review.

Whritenour lauded the efforts of state Rep. Dylan Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr, who helped secure $1 million in funding from the economic development bond bill to make improvements to the North Bluff ferry embarkation point where the Island Queen docks.

In addition to the economic bill, a separate environmental bond bill secured another $1 million in funding for repairs to the East Chop Bluff.

After getting approval from Edgartown on Monday, race director of the Martha’s Vineyard marathon Lee Ann Yarbor got selectmen’s approval for the 2019 marathon.