Edgartown delays housing bank decision

After hearing from counsel, select board seeks more answers.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport, shown here at a 2017 meeting, issued a report comparing the housing bank with the Land Bank process. — Stacey Rupolo

With some details of the proposed housing bank still up in the air, the Edgartown select board remained reluctant to put the issue on this spring’s annual town meeting warrant.

A week ago, the board asked town counsel Ron Rappaport to review the warrant article and report back to the board. Rappaport issued a written opinion where he pointed out several ways the housing bank legislation strays from the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank that it’s modeled after. He also mentioned several unanswered questions, because the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank has not yet provided a copy of the proposed legislation.

During Monday’s Zoom meeting, coalition coordinator Laura Silber and coalition member John Abrams started to answer Rappaport’s questions point-by-point, but on the suggestion of Abrams, they cut that short and decided to respond in writing to the issues brought up by Rappaport.

The select board authorized Rappaport, who represents five of the six Island towns, to speak with coalition attorneys to get his questions answered as they dissect his written opinion.

Chilmark and Aquinnah, which are both represented by Rappaport, agreed to put the housing bank article on the warrant. West Tisbury delayed action, waiting to hear what Rappaport would tell Edgartown this week.

Because he represents all five towns, Rappaport filed a disclosure and had the Edgartown board vote to accept it, indicating he has no financial interest in the housing bank prior to issuing his opinion.

The deadline to place an article on the Edgartown warrant is Jan. 4, town administrator James Hagerty said. However, he added, the coalition could get an article on the special town meeting warrant, which has a deadline in February, if they can’t satisfy the select board with their answers ahead of the Jan. 4 deadline.

Among the areas where the housing bank differs from the Land Bank is in how it would be authorized, Rappaport told the board. 

Rappaport said when the Land Bank was approved in 1986, towns voted for the special legislation at town meetings, it went to the legislature, and then came back before voters again at the ballot. He said all six towns had to approve the Land Bank for it to take effect, while the housing bank requires just four of the six towns.

“It would not come back to the town as proposed for an election or at the ballot box, so that is threshold question No. 1,” Rappaport told the board. “It’s a different process — the Land Bank was two steps, town meeting vote and election. This is one-step.”

The second question to be clarified is whether a community that votes no would be required to join if four other communities adopt it. Rappaport said that’s not clear in the article, but according to an email sent to the town, a community that does not adopt the housing bank would not be required to join. “That question is out there, and I think it needs to be clarified in the amendment,” Rappaport said.

If towns decide not to authorize the housing bank, they would not be part of it, Silber said during the meeting. “We’ll make sure that’s clarified in the draft legislation,” she said. 

Edgartown select board member Art Smadbeck said he’d like to see the legislation come back after it’s approved by the legislature for a final approval by voters. “Me, as a selectman, I would be much more comfortable if we ask the town to vote yes or no,” Smadbeck said.

Another difference is that the Land Bank has a process for a town to withdraw from it; the housing bank doesn’t, Rappaport said. 

Silber said that’s because there is a 30-year sunset clause where all the towns that authorize the housing bank would have to renew it.

In yet another difference pointed out by Rappaport, while every Land Bank property purchase has to be authorized by the local town advisory board, there are things the housing bank would not require its local advisory boards to vote on, Rappaport said. They include projects with two or fewer units, as well as equity participation loans. “You may wish to consider an amendment which would require that all housing bank projects in the town require approval from the town advisory board,” Rappaport wrote.

Select board member Margaret Serpa wants to see the legislation language before putting it on the warrant. “I think it’s premature to put on town meeting warrant unless we know the language,” she said.

This is the Island’s third attempt at a housing bank. This proposal seeks a 2 percent real estate transfer fee through a mechanism similar to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. However, unlike the Land Bank, the first $1 million of a sale price isn’t subject to the 2 percent fee. As currently drafted, the housing bank would consist of seven elected commissioners, each representing one of the Vineyard’s six towns, plus one commissioner at large. The legislation also calls for a town advisory board for each town.

In other business, the board authorized a Polar Express train — it’s a series of golf carts tied together — for the Saturday of Christmas in Edgartown. While there was some concern raised with the route and the impact it would have on Chappaquiddick residents coming and going from the Chappy Ferry, the board ultimately decided “no bah-humbug here” as select board chair Michael Donaroma put it, and authorized the train after administrative assistant Kristy Rose suggested an alternate route.

“If it causes all kinds of problems and disruptions, we can deal with it on the fly, I guess,” Smadbeck said.

Police Chief Bruce McNamee said officers would be on hand to make sure traffic keeps flowing.

Meanwhile, the Terrace at the Charlotte Inn in Edgartown surrendered its liquor license back to the town for the remainder of the year after its chef and servers quit without notice, according to a letter written to the board and read into the record by Hagerty. “Given the situation is so unknown at this time, we are surrendering our liquor license as we do not know when we will be able to open,” Hagerty said reading from the letter.

The board approved the surrender of the license unanimously.


  1. We absolutely need to have 2 votes on this and thank you town counsel and selectman for making sure this is a fair process for all who have property here. There does not need to be any undue pressure here to move this forward without proper guidelines. One and done vote is a non starter for many islanders I speak with. Abrams is right to have everything in writing to protect all interests in this as we all have heard promises before that are never kept. If we really wanted to create affordable housing we would increase density in some areas and allow seasonal dormitories units which continue to be proven in other parts of the country.

  2. There is another side to this housing issue. It is called overpopulation. If the island becomes overwhelmed with thousands of more residents living in subsidized homes paid by a new tax our infrastructure simply can’t handle it. We can all expect higher taxes for increased school enrollment, wider roads, stop lights, bigger fire and police stations, etc. The solution to more housing could make life here much worse

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