A housing project proposed at the old Olsen farm in West Tisbury has re-emerged. Developer William Cumming, who grew up in Katama, recently signed agreements with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and Island Housing Trust for a project that will include market-rate houses and affordable housing.
In 2017, the proposed development caused a ruckus with neighbors and abutters on Old Courthouse Road, who decried what they alleged were changes to lot divisions nobody anticipated and an undesirable access road. That drew accusations of NIMBYism. Criticism was partially quelled when a group of local citizens were taken on a tour of the acreage in 2017 and were able to ask direct questions of folks involved in the project.
“He’s been preparing this for some time,” IHT executive director Philippe Jordi said of Cumming.
As to why the project appeared to go into hibernation previously, IHT president Doug Ruskin said, “We stepped back while he was continuing to cogitate.”
Cumming said, “It’s just taken a while to pull together.” He noted there have been a lot of people involved. The development, as planned now, will have three Islander lots—lots for folks either born on the Vineyard or who have worked in public service for 10 years, according to Cumming. It will have eight rentals dedicated to teachers, eight market-rate homes, and two guesthouses. Cumming said he’s purchased additional lots that now bring the total acreage from 27 to 34. “We acquired more land to make it more flexible,” he said of the development.
The Land Bank will develop trails on part of the land in addition to preserving meadowland. In total, the Land Bank will preserve seven acres at the development.
“Most of it is an open field that the Land Bank will then lease to someone for pasturing, and then the southerly part of it is a ridge — a pine ridge with a nice, long, long-distance view,” James Lengyel, executive director of the Land Bank, said.
Cumming said houses were originally planned for the ridge, and would have had sea views, but instead the ridge will be set aside for the Land Bank, and the houses will be situated elsewhere.
“Our goal is to get pupils to be able to walk to the West Tisbury School,” Lengyel said of the trails.
The access for the meadowland would be off Old Court House, Lengyel said.
Asked when the deal would be complete for the Land Bank, Lengyel said, “The contract is signed, and Mr. Cumming will now make application to the planning board and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for permits to implement that, and so I would say it depends on what the timetable for the permitting process is.”
Asked if Land Bank goats will graze on the meadowland, Lengyel said, “No, our goats have so much to do across the Vineyard that we wouldn’t have time for them to go here. This would be for somebody who has an enterprise and would like to do something on the land itself.”
Jordi described the union of conservation land and affordable housing as “conservation-based affordable housing,” a model IHT tries to follow.
“This now marks the 15th collaboration that the Land Bank has had with affordable housing entities since 1991,” Lengyel said.
Jordi estimated the permit process will take half a year to a year to get through, and that will be followed by a fundraising campaign. All in all, “you’re looking at a good two, two and a half years,” he said.
Cumming said the housing needs of the Vineyard are only getting worse, and based on his government salary, even the governor of Massachusetts couldn’t afford the average home on the Vineyard these days.