In what could be a game-changing development in Vineyard Haven, a development team is looking to build up to 80 units of housing, with 75 apartments set aside as affordable or workforce housing.
The development, which is in the preliminary stages and has not yet been filed with the planning board or the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, is proposed at the site of H.N. Hinckley & Sons Hardware, which was sold in August to Larkin “Barry” Reeves for $2.3 million. The property is located on 1.61 acres across Beach Road from the DeSorcy property, which is on the market for $8 million. The Hinckley property does not have the same restrictions as the properties on the north side, which under town zoning are required to have some marine purpose.
Michael Sawyer, owner of the Barn, Bowl and Bistro, is the project manager, Sam Dunn is the architect, and his son, Josh Dunn, is also on the development team, along with Michael’s father, Robert Sawyer, and, of course, Reeves.
“It’s a very exciting project,” Robert Sawyer, a longtime proponent of affordable housing, told The Times Friday. “We think it will make the most major change to Vineyard Haven I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Emphasizing that plans are still not fully developed, Sawyer said the idea is to make the vast majority range from 80 percent area median income (AMI) to 150 percent AMI. “This is housing that’s going to be directed at working people — the teacher, the policeman, the people who work at the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the building inspector,” Sawyer said. “These people can’t find housing on Martha’s Vineyard, and we’re losing them.”
A town road is planned on the development property to connect Beach Road and Lagoon Pond Road. The hope is to ease the burden on Beach Road, Sawyer said.
Six separate units would be above 8,000 square feet of retail space on Beach Road. “Those units are going to address a housing need that no one talks about on the Island — that’s the empty nester,” Sawyer said. “I have a big house, my kids are grown, I don’t use a third of it. There are lots of people like that who would like to sell their home and not mow the lawn. We’re appealing to that market as well.”
Parking for the apartments, which could accommodate 100 cars, would be on the bottom floor of the units, he said. The property is located in a flood plain.
Solar panels will be incorporated into the design, as well as outdoor decks that would overlook Vineyard Haven Harbor, Sawyer said.
“To me it’s terribly exciting,” he said. “My passion is putting up affordable housing units that will make a real difference.”
There should be benefit to Vineyard Haven businesses, as well. “It really should be a shot in the arm for downtown Vineyard Haven, having all this housing here,” Sawyer said. “All across America we’re trying to bring people back to the downtown.”
Sawyer said it will be about two months before the development team will have plans to file. They are in the process of hiring a traffic engineer. “We have a lot of work to do,” Sawyer said.
Cheryl Doble, chairman of the Tisbury planning board, said she’s aware of the project scope.
“There’s some really positive things about it,” she said. “It’s a really big undertaking.”
Doble said she likes the idea that Sawyer is meeting with stakeholders and abutters ahead of time, and gathering feedback. “It think it’s great to do that early on in a project. It’s really helpful,” she said. “It helps us understand what we need to do going forward.”
An important aspect of the housing is not only that it will be geared toward the workforce, but that it will be year-round housing, Doble said. “That’s so important.”
The developers are also willing to listen to the town’s vision of wanting to connect properties and provide open spaces that allow pedestrians to more easily navigate the waterfront.
The property is not without its challenges, Doble said. “In addition to traffic studies, we’d have to have an understanding of impact on flooding, and it’s an area that’s vulnerable,” she said. “We need to understand these things, and can it be done in a way that serves the broader good.”