The town of Oak Bluffs is looking to use the eight-acre parcel next to the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena to develop mixed-income housing for year-round residents, with the opportunity to tie the property into the 24 acres currently in the process of being transferred to the town by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank.
During a community forum Thursday night, Oak Bluffs residents, local board members, abutters, and other stakeholders heard from community planning consultant Jenn Goldson on what the first phase of the development might look like, and what it will take to get the project shovel-ready.
Goldson said the request for proposals (RFP) that will be formulated will need to be approved by the town and put out for consideration by developers. This RFP focuses on the eight-acre parcel identified as the Southern Tier, which has been under the town’s microscope for affordable or mixed-income housing. The RFP will be based on the feasibility study that was recently conducted by Goldson and her community preservation and planning firm.
According to a survey of the approximately 40 participants in the forum, 56 percent of respondents said they would like to see affordable housing on the property, with 25 percent saying they are concerned about potential impacts of development.
According to an Islandwide housing needs assessment conducted in 2020, the number of total housing units in Oak Bluffs has increased more than 5 percent since 2010, but the total amount of year-round housing in the same period decreased about 7.5 percent.
“More and more of these houses being built are second homeowners,” Goldson said, stressing that the increase in overall housing has been brought on by the addition of seasonal units.
The area median income (AMI) for year-round households in Oak Bluffs is over $75,000, but rental prices for two-bedroom units average about $3,000 per month, Goldson said.
This means almost half of those households’ yearly income goes to housing — classifying them as “severely cost-burdened,” according to Goldson.
For a household in that income range, $1,900 would be the maximum monthly rental cost that would be considered affordable.
For Oak Bluffs, and the entire Island, she said, cost-burdened households (households that are spending more than 30 percent of gross income on housing costs) are common.
Those homes may or may not be low-income households, but due to the high cost of year-round options (and lack of affordable housing), much of their gross income is spent on housing.
According to Goldson, the state has a minimum affordability threshold that says every community or municipality should have at least 10 percent of its year-round housing be designated affordable.
“Most communities don’t meet this,” Goldson said. “Oak Bluffs is about 5.5 percent, as of December 2020.”
Additionally, the pandemic has exacerbated already increasing costs of single-family homes and condominiums, making new mixed-income units that can house a variety of Islanders all the more essential.
Although the forum focused on plans for the eight-acre parcel and not the potential expansion and tie-in to the 24 acres to be potentially developed in the future, Goldson said infrastructure will be included in the RFP for the first development phase.
During the first phase, within the next one to three years, 15 to 25 units of mixed-income housing would be built. After that, phase two would be launched and completed within a three- to seven-year timeframe. This involves expanding the development by 25 to 40 units, and creating an onsite wastewater treatment plant to conform with state maximum flow restrictions.
The final phase of the buildout looks out 10 to 15 years, when the town could expand the sewage treatment plant and create an additional 100 to 200 units on the 24-acre parcel (which is slated to be owned by the town).
The entire development would offer a variety of single or family occupancy homes with one-, two-, and three-bedroom units at both market rate and affordable rate prices.
All units would be deed-restricted for year-round residency.
Goldson also discussed the municipal land disposition process, which involves the town agreeing to a long-term ground lease with a developer who would construct, manage, and maintain the property.
According to Massachusetts General Law, towns must utilize a fair and open public procurement process to select a developer, which means issuing an RFP.
The RFP would require qualified developers to submit concept plans, timelines, references, examples of similar projects, and other materials in order to be considered. The town can orient its RFP criteria around what populations they want to target with this housing development.
“Are you looking to provide housing primarily for families, primarily for seniors, primarily for special-needs housing with supportive service, for workforce housing? Are you looking for rental or ownership, and are you looking to include some extra things, like sustainability measures?” Goldson said. “These are all things that can be put in.”
After reviewing the proposals and evaluating them based on the RFP criteria, each proposal gets a score, and a selection committee then chooses a preferred developer by reviewing public interviews conducted by the board of selectmen.
The selection committee then makes a recommendation to selectmen, which they must approve or deny.
Before the land disposition agreement (LDA) can be executed and the town officially chooses a developer, members of the public must vote at town meeting to approve the disposition.
Once a preferred developer is identified, they must go through a public hearing process before the zoning board of appeals and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, during which the project will be shaped and refined based on community input.
Oak Bluffs planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins said while the town has still not completed the land-swap process for the 24 acres quite yet (it needs legislative approval), infrastructure will be included in the first phase so that the eight acres can be tied in with the larger property in the future.
“To design this parcel in such a way that it will be a gateway to that land, regardless of how it is developed, and in what capacity it is developed,” Hopkins said. “Within the scope of this initiative, we are not designing or planning out the 24 acres, beyond having the infrastructure and accessibility be incorporated in our plan. If it becomes affordable housing, if it lays dormant and fallow, that is all still up in the air, and would only be speculation at this point.”
According to Hopkins, it has always been a focus of the planning board to have diversity in all building initiatives. Looking at the Lagoon Ridge housing development, Hopkins said, they made sure to incorporate non-income-based elderly housing, with qualifications based on age.
“We are talking about providing housing for our neighbors, for our neighbors’ children, that is our impetus,” Hopkins said. “When you create a mixed-use environment, you don’t create a stigmatized initiative, you create an environment that creates a cross-section, and represents a broad spectrum of the community.”
At the next meeting on April 8, draft development criteria will be shared before the draft RFP is created. Then, on May 6, Goldson said there will be another community meeting where a draft of the RFP may be shared.
By June 8, she hopes to present the draft RFP to selectmen for comments, at which point it would be released publicly, and developers would respond with proposals over the next few months.
“The goal is to select a developer in early October, then hopefully go to town meeting in the fall,” Goldson said.