Representatives from Island Housing Trust and the Onyx Group presented their bids to develop affordable housing in the Southern Woodlands in Oak Bluffs. During a Zoom meeting Friday, representatives of both developers presented their responses to a request for proposals (RFP) to the Oak Bluffs select board.
IHT representatives presented their proposal with representatives from the following partner organizations for the project: Boston-based finance and development firm Affirmative Investments, Rhode Island–based architectural firm Union Studio, and real estate development and management nonprofit organization Community Builders.
“We have been very engaged as a team on the complex phased project that we’re presenting. We believe we have a very responsive plan that’s cognizant of the site’s location,” Tara Mizrahi, executive vice president of Affirmative Investments, said. “Our site must play an important role in transitioning from individual homeowners, institutional uses, and protected open spaces while providing very beautiful homes to 60 new families.”
According to Union Studio associate Stephanie Zurek, the site will be made to both conserve land and be an area friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. The development of the duplexes and manor homes will be clustered to have minimal impact on the land, and the paths will provide connections to adjacent sites, such as the YMCA. Additionally, there will be shared green spaces, and a bus stop is planned for the area. Zurek said the plans are reminiscent of the Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs.
“We’ve prioritized community connections, a cohesive site plan approach, and contextual architecture,” Zurek said. The plans will evolve with development and feedback from the town and residents. The site would be built in two phases, the first bringing in 25 residential units and the second phase 35 units for rent.
IHT design development manager Derrill Bazzy said sustainability strategies will be incorporated to open doors to subsidies, rebates, and grants, alongside bringing together quality and affordability. Examples of these strategies include solar power, native planting, and protecting the Island’s coastal ponds through cooperation with KleanTu and its NitROE enhanced septic system to reduce nitrogen levels in the wastewater by up to 90 percent. Bazzy said a strong collaborative effort with the town’s boards and Oak Bluffs residents will be important to building the project.
David Ennis, president of Affirmative Investments, said the units will be aimed toward people with low and median incomes. State funding, town grants, and IHT fundraising will be crucial to the total costs of the project, which come out to $13.4 million. Ennis said the calculations are based on Keuhn’s Way costs, which is currently being built in Tisbury. Ennis expects funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will make up 62 percent of the funding. Ennis said if all goes as planned, the affordable housing units can be delivered by 2025 or earlier.
The Roxbury-based Onyx Group representatives presented a proposal with representatives from the following partner companies for the project: Cambridge-based Galante Architect Studios, Norwood-based CES Engineering, Canton-based modular home builder Avalon Building Systems, and Reading-based engineering and environmental services firm Weston & Sampson.
“Our mission is to preserve and develop without displacement. Our focus is geared toward building quality affordable housing while providing intentional, specialized focus on equity and inclusion of local residents,” Onyx Group co-founder Chanda Smart said. “Most developers of affordable housing have never lived in it. That personal dynamic affords the Onyx Group the right lens to provide conscience-based development that focuses on the creation and nurturing of its residents and surrounding communities.”
Shabnam Mashmasarmi, a co-founder of the Onyx Group, said local knowledge, organizations, and neighbors will be consulted to make the Southern Woodlands site better fit into the fabric of Oak Bluffs.
According to Ted Galante, founding principal of Galante Architect Studios, the plans will have a minimal impact on the land, and will create construction jobs on the Island. He said the focus is “Island-wide resiliency, not just for this site.” Galante said their approach is to build the site with a biophilic design, which he said is a way to mimic nature and integrate the site into the surrounding environment. Some of the sustainability methods include solar power, geothermal wells, and building alongside the trees that preserve many of them, and protect moth migration routes. Additionally, the surrounding roads will be renovated, and new ones built to make the site pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly.
Galante also showed a design of the proposed buildings, which displayed units that will be on short legs rather than on full foundations, in an effort to minimize the project’s ground impact. He said there will be ways to super-insulate the floors and keep wild animals from going under the house.
“The idea is to preserve as much as we can possibly preserve,” Galante said.
Kyle Wilton from the Onyx Group said the plan is to build the 60 units in two phases. The units will not have a single market rate, and will take into consideration income levels. Wilton said they have received pledges of financial support that total $4 million, with other funding sources available such as loans. Onyx did not provide an estimate of the project cost, but said the majority of the funding would come from Massachusetts DHCD.
Galante said it is possible to build the 60 units in one phase.
Paul Oliveira from Avalon Building Systems said the construction will be done using modular homes. Recycled materials will be used, and labor from the local workforce will be prioritized. The modular homes will be built throughout the year, and have a smaller environmental impact.
A question and answer session was held between the public and each team of applicants, primarily about whether there was a possibility of the renters earning homes, and more specific details about the sustainability measures, such as the geothermal technology. Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard said these were opportunities to be informed, “not to debate anyone’s ideas.”
The Oak Bluffs select board will evaluate each proposal and make a decision at a later date.