The Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing for the latest iteration of the 54-acre Meeting House Place development in Edgartown Thursday night ended with only three members of the public voicing criticism of the project.
The majority of the hearing involved a presentation of the updated project, which has received significant pushback from Island residents, conservationists, and stakeholders, and gone through several significant redesigns since it was first presented to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission over a year ago.
The 54-acre property was purchased for $6.6 million in June 2017 by developers Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews, operating as Meeting House Way LLC. Their listed address is in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Concerns over the project — one of the largest the commission has reviewed — include potential impact on traffic conditions, Island urbanization, nitrogen loading, and animal habitat loss. In September, the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee voted to recommend the full commission deny the project.
In its current form, the project proposes to establish 30 acres as open space and develop the other 20-odd acres with 28 single-family homes, restricted to a maximum of 3,800 square feet, and a cluster of affordable townhouses. The project also calls for the single-family houses to incorporate SmartFlower solar arrays.
The latest change to the project was to add four additional affordable townhouses, for a total of 14. The cluster of below-market-rate townhouses would be dedicated to first-time homebuyers and empty nesters, elderly people who have lived on the Island for 15-plus years, but are looking to downsize. In addition to the townhouses, the project also calls for a 1 percent fee to the Edgartown affordable housing committee on any future sale of the development’s homes, and a flat $1.1 million contribution.
At Thursday’s public hearing Patrick Kager, an Edgartown resident, said the plan for the townhouses was not realistic and the townhomes in that part of the Island would be a mismatch.
“I’m concerned these homes could turn into a blight. As owners either abandon them or decide not to provide any capital improvements. It seems like we’re setting ourselves up for an issue where these homes become a major problem for the Island long-term,” Kager said. “You might be better off renting and putting that money into some other investments rather than into a house that they’ll never see any appreciation on.”
His concerns echoed similar comments made by commissioner Ben Robinson, who said he worried there would be no incentive for townhouse owners to maintain their homes.
“The incentive is for the developers to produce [the townhouses] as inexpensively as they can and there’s very little incentive for the first homeowners and then subsequent homeowners to improve upon them since I think they will have a hard time recouping their capital expenses,” Robinsons said.
Attorney Sean Murphy, who represents the developers, said his clients were open to suggestions and that they were still working out the fine details of who would qualify for the townhouses and how to incentivize the townhouse owners.
The other two members of the public were Emily Reddington, a biologist and executive director of the Great Pond Foundation, and Jeffrey Agnoli, an Edgartown resident, both of whom have appeared at prior public hearings to voice their concerns about the project.
While Reddington commended the developers for meeting the MVC’s nitrogen reduction standard, she said meeting the MVC’s standards was “not enough to protect the pond.”
Nitrogen loading was of particular concern for the project. The property sits in the Edgartown Great Pond watershed. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and septic systems create algal blooms in Island estuaries, killing plant and animal life.
“We’re putting the eelgrass at risk, we’re putting the oysters at risk, we’re putting the property values at risk,” Reddington said. “All the ecology, all the life that’s come back to the pond is at risk of dying…Not only is the increase in development a problem before the watershed, but the watershed right now needs a reduction in development.”
Agnoli, who has lived in the area for over 30 years, asked the commission to deny the project and criticized the increase in traffic, the solar flowers, and the developer’s affordable housing contributions as a benefit.
“Suffice it to say the list of detriments to this plan, even with its altered iteration here, it’s still too lengthy,” Agnoli said. “There is no support for it.”
Commissioners continued the public hearing to June 11 at 5:30 pm. MVC chairman Douglas Sederholm stressed the importance of the public being involved in the hearing whether they write a letter or appear via Zoom.
“Please don’t be dissuaded from participating because we’re on Zoom. This process we have to do sucks, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s very important members of the public participate even though we’ve got to use all this crazy technology. This is a significant project,” Sederholm said.