In a nonbinding, informal straw vote Monday night, a majority of members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Land Use Planning Committee voiced their opposition to the large Meeting House Place development in Edgartown.
“I think it’s too much. We don’t need to suburbanize Martha’s Vineyard,” commissioner Douglas Sederholm said. “Look at the preamble to Chapter 831. Back in 1974, they were worried about the values being threatened by uncoordinated or inappropriate uses of land. Well, here we are 45 years later, and we’re running out of land. It’s time to say no to something as complicated and as suburban and big as this is.”
The project, which came to the commission over a year ago, and has gone through several iterations, proposes to develop a 54-acre parcel of land off Meetinghouse Way. It calls for 30 acres as open space and to develop the other 20-odd acres with 28 single-family homes, restricted to a maximum of 3,800 square feet, and a cluster of 14 below-market-rate townhouses.
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. The developers have been represented by attorney Sean Murphy and engineer Douglas Hoehn.
Usually, the LUPC takes a formal vote to recommend the full commission either approve or deny a project, but Monday’s meeting commissioners took a straw vote.
LUPC chairman Richard Toole called for a straw vote from commissioners, asking what they thought of the project. Toole said the project had come a long way since it first came to the commission over a year ago.
“I’m concerned about, you know, we keep moving the goalpost. When this thing started, the rules were such and such, and now they seem to be a lot stricter,” Toole said. “I’m leaning toward voting yes.”
But the straw poll was 9-2, with the majority of commissioners feeling the project was not right for the Island and should not be approved.
Commissioners Michael Kim and Christine Todd were not eligible to vote. Commissioners Josh Goldstein, James Joyce, and Ernie Thomas were not present at the meeting.
The cluster of 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. Of those townhouses, 10 would be two-bedroom units priced at $387,000 and four one-bedroom units priced at $359,000. The sale price on the townhouses will be fixed for one year, after which a 3.5 percent increase would be applied annually.
The townhomes will have a resale price capped at 4 percent per year or Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher. The seller can recover the full cost of capital improvement costs.
The townhouses are not part of the project’s required affordable housing contribution. Instead, the developers are proposing a flat $1.1 million contribution, in addition to a 1 percent fee paid to the Edgartown affordable housing committee on any future sale of the development’s homes. The homes would also be powered by Smartflower, a self-cleaning solar array.
Concerns over the project include potential impact on traffic conditions, Island urbanization, nitrogen loading, and animal habitat loss.
This is the first time the LUPC voiced its opposition to this iteration. A previous version of the project came close to the chopping block in September, when the LUPC voted to recommend the full commission deny a previous iteration of the project.
Commissioner Kathy Newman said the density and character of the project did not “sit well” with her.
“These couple of months with COVID really made me sit down and just think, like, what’s important and what is this land, and what’s it been like to sort of fit in place here and appreciate it,” Newman said. “I just can’t support this.”
Commissioner Fred Hancock applauded the applicants for the improvements to the project, but he agreed with Newman.
“I think this is a really bad location for that development,” Hancock said. “I don’t think we should be trading away this land for this. I don’t think the Island gets a good return on this deal.”
Commissioner Joan Malkin said it came down to Island character, intensity of land use, and the need for the type of housing proposed. She also took issue with the placement of the townhouses, calling them “ghettoized.”
Commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes joined Toole as the other vote of approval. “I think this plan is as good as it’s going to get. It’ll bring money to the town, it’s going on the sewer system,” Barnes said. “I’m for it.”
But others disagreed. “This is such a complex project,” commissioner Ben Robinson said. “I think we should be striving for simplicity. And the complexity belies the problem that we can’t even get through the list of offers, to even get to what we would consider conditions, because it is so complex, because it is so big, and because it is essentially unwarranted for the Island.”
The project is on the agenda for Thursday night at 7 pm. On Tuesday, Murphy told the commission he wanted to move forward with the full commission on Thursday night. The applicants can pull the project without prejudice and reapply the next day. If the full commission denies the project, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Superior Court. There is a 20-business-day appeal period on all MVC decisions, for approval or denial.
If the project is pulled without prejudice and the applicants reapply, they would be subject to the commission’s updated affordable housing policy. So far the Meeting House Place project has been continuing its application since February 2019.
“This is a character issue,” commissioner Linda Sibley said. “What you’ve heard tonight is people saying they think it isn’t in character.”