Updated at April 25
Chilmark voters indefinitely postponed Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank articles Monday night at the annual town meeting. The votes doomed sending the idea onward to Beacon Hill for the foreseeable future by becoming the fourth town to either postpone or defeat the proposal to use a portion of short-term rental taxes to pay for Island housing. With Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown previously either voting down or postponing the same legislation, Chilmark’s support was essential to getting a 50 percent minimum of the Vineyard’s towns onboard with the concept. Only West Tisbury approved the Housing Bank. Aquinnah’s upcoming town meeting vote on the subject will effectively be moot.
Extensive debate on the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank occurred before the articles meant to engineer the concept (Articles 33 and 34), came to the floor. Instead, Chilmark-crafted Article 32 became a lightning rod for all opinions on the Housing Bank. That article called for an alternative affordable housing idea that aims to utilize the preexisting Molly Flender Affordable Housing Trust in loosely defined connection with the Dukes County Housing Authority and a future and theoretical iteration of the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank.
Selectmen chairman Jim Malkin made it clear both the finance committee and the selectmen support the basic concept of a Housing Bank, but the legislation put on the warrant by its proponents didn’t pass the sniff test “as written and presented to us” because of “issues of governance, issues of legality, issues terminology, [and] issues of enforcement…”
Despite this, Malkin said Chilmark made an effort not to snub affordable housing in general, which the town believes in.
“So it was our intention with this article to give the town an opportunity to say yes we support affordable housing,” he said. “Yes, we support doing something and we’d like to work with the other towns and the regional housing authority to develop something that makes sense, that’s enforceable, and that ties to the goals that we have as a community.”
Asked if approval of Chilmark’s alternative idea would compel the town to adhere to a particular depository scheme, town counsel Ron Rappaport said he didn’t think so.
“Okay, at the risk of complicating things late in the evening, I really look at Article 32 as a political vote, not as a legal vote,” he said, “because there’s no percentage of money that is being authorized by the town meeting to go into any particular account.” He went on to re-emphasize the article was “just a political statement” and pointed out “there’s nothing mandatory” contained within it.
“We in Chilmark, at the [finance committee], and the selectmen did not want to simply vote those two articles down,” Malkin said of the Housing Bank articles, “and perhaps make a statement that we did not support affordable housing. So we crafted Article 32, which town counsel has called a political statement, and I’m not sure I’m really happy with that,” he lightly joked.
Voter Frank Dunkl said he thought Chilmark was getting “sidetracked” on “minuscule issues” relative to short-term rental taxes, and argued that there once was a problem with the children of Island business owners not finding housing.
“That’s a very legitimate issue and it’s one that I feel that this town and every town on the Island could address,” he said. “However, things have changed. We don’t have that kind of situation anymore.” Dunkl went on to say he believed off-Island businesses that utilize imported labor are monopolizing affordable housing.
“And I remind you,” he said, “Chilmark is zoned agricultural — residential. That residential wasn’t intended to be low-rent housing for the benefit of down-Island businesses, most of [whose] owners and operators have no connection whatsoever with the Vineyard and all they want to do is milk our economy at our expense.”
Dunkl said he felt other issues deserved Island-wide attention.
“The real big issue is, how do we get through Five Corners in our car in the summertime? How do we get through The Triangle in Edgartown? How do we get gas in Menemsha when you can’t even maneuver your car there without running over people who think its a pedestrian mall?”
He cited noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, and too many Steamship Authority passengers as threats to Vineyarders’ wellbeing. “The Island is maxxed out,” he said.
Chilmark firefighter Jonah Maidoff noted that firefighters and EMTs were present at town meeting and said they need places to live.
“There is a need for housing,” he said. “There is a need for people who volunteer within this community to defend and protect us and take care of us…and there is this lack of housing for those people. So while there may be larger issues…we do need housing for people that we depend on.”
M.V. Charter School teacher Deb Dunn said the school has a tough time keeping teachers here. “We have a colleague right now who is leaving to New York because…she can’t find affordable housing and she can’t continue to afford to live here. She’s a valuable member of our school community and because of the housing issue and the expense, we’re losing her. She’s far from the first and far from the last public school teacher who that will happen to. I’m going to venture a guess that that’s true for other civil servants that we have: police officers or volunteer firefighters and EMTs and other town officials …”
Dunn went on to say counter to what Dunkl argued, many Island children want to stay on or return to the Vineyard but can’t afford to do so.
Article 32 ultimately passed on a majority voice vote. Through motions from Chilmark Affordable Housing Committee chairman Jim Feiner, the subsequent Housing Bank articles were then mothballed in short order.
Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi later described the Article 32 vote as encouraging and judged the deliberation on affordable housing in Chilmark, as it was at every other town meeting, was “the most robustly” discussed of all the articles. Jordi, a proponent of the M.V. Housing Bank, anticipates further discussion with all six towns and expressed faith in Dukes County and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to help facilitate those discussions. He also expressed confidence in the commonwealth’s support of the concept.
“I believe our state legislators are committed to it,” he said.
The Chilmark Fire Department’s quest for a new station made significant headway when voters approved $900,000 to buy land for both a new station and Tri-Town Ambulance building by a vote of 189-15. They also said yes to another $200,000 to design those structures. Both sums are Proposition 2½ debt exclusions and require ballot approval at the annual town election on Wednesday. A big group of Chilmark firefighters and Tri-Town Ambulance paramedics and EMTs joined Chiefs David Norton and Ben Retmier at town meeting to support the votes. Dunkl gave strong support to the acquisition and design articles.
“We are very excited and humbled by the support of the town last night,” Retmier, Tri-Town’s chief, later messaged The Times. “I’m hoping that we have a similar show of support at the ballot on Wednesday, and this project can continue moving forward in a positive direction.”
“I was a little overwhelmed with the support,” Norton later said. “I thank Mr. Dunkl for his support to emergency services. I think we’re over the first hump.”
In response to questions posed about the price tag, Norton told The Times, “The Carrolls could have turned around and sold it for a lot more.”
Earlier at the one-article special town meeting held at 6:30 pm, voters rejected a $350,000 request for the use of Excess & Deficiency funds to pay for design work and an owner’s project manager for a synthetic infield for the high school. At the annual town meeting they said yes, using $43,335 worth of the same class of funds for Chilmark’s share of a feasibility study for a high school renovation or rebuild. The vote still requires ballot approval Wednesday. They also said yes to Sheriff Bob Ogden’s request for $27,607 to fund upgrades and upkeep of the Dukes County Regional Emergency Communications Center and Radio System. That too needs ballot support Wednesday to be fulfilled.
After extensive debate, voters approved petitioning the state Legislature for local control of some herbicide use in an effort to protect groundwater.
And in a vote that ultimately brought the room to a standing ovation, students from Plastic Free MV saw a ban on plastic soda and water bottles of less than 34 ounces approved. The kids are 2-0 after their landmark success in West Tisbury.
Updated to clarify a quote from Jordi – Ed.