Updated April 18
After a lengthy discussion on the proposed Housing Bank article, which would take a percentage from the newly expanded room-occupancy tax, Edgartown voters approved a motion by board of selectmen chairman Michael Donaroma to indefinitely postpone the decision.
Moderator Sean Murphy took the reins at Tuesday’s annual town meeting at the Old Whaling Church, and voters finished the town’s work in one marathon session ending just before midnight.
“It’s pretty clear that the Island Housing Bank has gotten ahead of itself,” Donaroma said. “I don’t think we are ready to do this tonight.”
Donaroma said the most effective way to make an informed decision on the Housing Bank would be to table the article for a year, in order to have a better understanding of just how much money would be brought in from short-term rentals.
Citing “too many holes” in the proposal, Donaroma suggested a committee to review the Housing Bank idea. “The way the town has always done these things is through the community,” he said. “This committee would be an opportunity to meet and discuss with other towns — let’s let the community make this decision.”
After the motion was made, questions were raised regarding the transparency of current affordable housing initiatives and the availability of information online. Demonstrating some of the emotion this issue has caused, a woman approached the microphone and yelled, “Read The Times, don’t read Google!”
Murphy responded by saying, “Are you under the impression this is your living room?”
Afterward, an unidentified woman shouted, “Shut up, Sean,” before storming out of the room.
Officer Will Bishop, who was acting as a constable for the meeting, tried to calm the woman near the entrance, but she shouted an expletive and slammed the meeting hall door.
Town counsel Ron Rappaport identified some of the holes in the article, mainly focused around the lack of definition for the term “year-round housing.”
“Year-round housing is not a defined term in this proposed legislation. It is not defined in Massachusetts General Laws. Frankly, I don’t know what the term means,” Rappaport said.
Rappaport also talked about the permanent deed restriction for all housing units created through funding by the Housing Bank.
“The problem is, there is no mechanism for imposing a permanent deed restriction. A deed restriction is good for 30 years,” Rappaport said. “There is such a provision that allows in-perpetuity restrictions for low- to moderate-income housing, but no such provision for ‘year-round housing.’”
Sara Nevin said she didn’t think postponing the article would solve anything, and would perpetuate the issue of the lack of affordable year-round housing.
“If three towns on-Island decide to pass this [Housing Bank article], it will pass, and our Edgartown voice won’t be represented,” Nevin said. “If we aren’t a part of this, we are foolish.” Nevin suggested that there are people in the room who want to postpone the article to “keep control of the money.”
The Rev. Chip Seadale said that if St. Andrew’s Church did not pay for his housing, he would not be able to live on Martha’s Vineyard. “I understand the same problem presents itself to countless others similarly situated who might consider moving here, but choose not to, because they cannot pay for housing.” Seadale said.
“I’m sure I don’t need to remind everyone that people are our greatest resource—and a diverse population makes us all stronger and better off.”
Seadale said he supports the creation of a housing bank and asks everyone to see the petition as “an opportunity to make something really good, and really needed, happen.”
Peter Look held up a map for the audience to see. “This map is from 1858, these houses were year-round houses. That was 150 years ago, when we had a community that lived together, worked together, and called themselves neighbors,” he said. “It’s very hard to call someone a neighbor today, because most of your neighbors’ houses are vacant. I’m not here to oppose this bureaucracy, but the bureaucracy that has allowed our zoned neighborhoods to be filled with houses of business.”
Look said he does not want zoning enforcement to fall by the wayside, and that proper zoning enforcement would prevent neighborhoods from becoming “cash cows.”
Sara Piazza said she is frustrated that “scare tactics” are being used in these negotiations, and that rushing this decision could be devastating for the town.
She said the Island community should not be vilifying seasonal residents, because they keep the economy afloat. “Summer people aren’t our enemies,” she said.
One point of contention at the meeting was the article to raise and appropriate $950,000 to engineer, demolish, expand, and build a new hangar located at the Katama Airfield.
Sam Stancati said he doesn’t disagree with the idea to build a new hangar, but wondered why it was so expensive, and why the airfield needs a larger hangar than the current one.
“We do need a new hangar, but we don’t need a hangar almost double the size. Let’s rebuild it maybe, but give it the same exact footprint,” Stancati said.
Stancati also wondered how the hangar was going to be rented out, and to whom. “Is this going to be a nightly rental, or a monthly rental? And are commercial planes being allowed to use the hangar, or will it just be accessible to transient planes?” Stancati said. “We don’t know the answer to these questions — there are a lot of unknowns about this.”
A motion was made to indefinitely postpone the article, which was shot down 153 to 56. The article was then passed as written.
In other business, voters approved the transfer of $316,268 in funds from the excess and deficiency fund of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to the general fund for fiscal year 2019. The article included the appropriation of $286,145 from town funds to create a feasibility study and schematic design work regarding renovations and improvements to the school and the campus. Voters also approved a more than $38 million spending plan.
Updated to correct the position of Rev. Seadale, and to correct position of Sara Piazza regarding zoning enforcement. -Ed.