The Martha’s Vineyard Commission met on Thursday to continue its public hearing regarding the renovation and expansion project at the former EduComp building in Vineyard Haven.
The colonial brick building was initially built in 1929 and “designed to reflect the style of whaling homes on the Vineyard,” served as a headquarters for the New England Telephone Company before housing the Island Youth Center in the 70’s and 80’s, and eventually becoming the location of EduComp for the last 30 years. Alex Elvin, DRI Coordinator explained.
An archaeological survey of the area was conducted in October 2021 per the request of the Massachusetts Historical Society Commission (MHC), which recommended a more conscientious construction process, with minimal impacts to undisturbed soil, due to the “archaeological sensitivity” of the site.
The proposed expansion, which is on its second revision, includes a gut-renovation of the building and the construction of a 13,062 square foot add-on to the existing 7,920 square feet, a 165% increase. It would also include three office units and “up to 13 workforce housing units.” Agreements have been made between building owner Xerxes Agassi and both Vineyard Wind and the MV Hospital to provide workforce rentals, said Agassi. The proposal states that the building will have one elevator and will be designed to be handicapped accessible.
In addition, Agassi said in the project proposal that he will be contributing $25,000 to the Vineyard Power Redevelopment fund “to support community based solar and battery storage systems on the Island, which would enhance grid resilience and provide low-income ratepayer benefits to the community.”
Considering the housing crisis, concerns were raised about the possible usage of the residential units for short-term rentals.
Agassi explained, “we have a clause in our leases where our tenants are not allowed to re-lease or sublet the units.” The clause reads: “None of the workforce tenants may sublet their units as short-term rentals and any market rate sublets may not be sublet for less than a week at a time or more than 60 days in total per calendar year.” Agassi was unable to provide sample leases when asked by the commission.
Echoing the tone of last week’s commission meeting concerning the Lampost building owner’s usage of units for Airbnb rentals, the commission’s frustration was met with come circumvention on the part of Agassi.
Regarding determining the volume of workforce housing, commissioner Christina Brown said, “you offer up to 13, but the way that will be decided and how many in the long run, is unclear…Are you offering 13 altogether, or maybe 13?”
Agassi said that it is dependent upon how many workforce rental units are being used.
“We have signed a memorandum of understanding with [Vineyard Wind and MV Hospital], and an option for them to lease these units.” The limitation being any unit not used for workforce housing would have that similar cap, meaning the remaining units could be open for one-week rentals.
Brown noted that if in fact the units were rented to employees of Vineyard Wind and MV Hospital, it would be “generous” of Agassi, adding that if those unfinalized rental agreements were to fall through, Agassi would be “free to rent [the units] at market rate. “You’re not offering to go looking for other workforce tenants,” she said.
Commissioner Doug Sederholm asked for further clarification, noting “[the units] may be for [Vineyard Wind and MV Hospital] workers, but they will be rented at market rate,” leaving a single unit available for affordable housing.
“What’s workforce housing to you?” asked MVC Chair Joan Malkin to Agassi, expressing concerns about the 60 days per calendar year cap on rentals. She added that she fears that there could be use of that cap as a loophole to make substantial returns by renting the units in the peak of summer, with the risk of adding additional pressure to the housing market.
“What there seems to be lacking,” said Agassi, “good quality housing for part of the workforce which are engineers, doctors, etc. They have really been struggling, as a lot of businesses have.” The workforce housing “is exactly what it is,” he said.
Commissioner Fred Hancock called for a more precise understanding of the verbiage, “to us, workforce housing is 150% AMI, so if in fact that is the case with [the single affordable housing unit],” the remaining units “in our terms, are market rate housing that could be leased, rented to people working but should not be confused with what we’re calling workforce housing.”
Commissioner Linda Sibley seconded his statement.
Commissioner Trip Barnes inquired about the number of tenants allowed in each unit, to which Agassi responded: “we do have language in our leases that limit the number of people in the lease, per bedroom count,” because of septic concerns.
Advocating for Agassi’s project proposal, Brian Smith said, “however you define workforce housing, any additional housing reduces pressure on the cost of housing” on the Island. “I think it’s a really good-looking building,” he added.
Joe Grillo, an abutter to the project, expressed concerns about how the construction process will affect the topography of the lo by “significantly [changing] the current contours that exist” between the two properties.
The public hearing discussions will be continued for “as long as it takes to address all the issues,” Sederholm said.
Also on the Commission’s agenda on Thursday was the approval of the Airport Business Park’s Big Sky Tents Expansion which includes a 8,500 square foot expansion. The commission concluded that the Big Sky Tents project has neither a beneficial nor detrimental impact, with the exception of the projected economic impact which was decided to be solely beneficial. Conditions of the project include the allotment of housing “that is comparable to existing housing that is provided, in terms of quality, cost, and tenant capacity” for 16 Big Sky Tents employees.