MVC to consider ‘attainable’ housing

Commissioners approve demolition of MACRIS-listed house; complaint letter from abutter of Island Autism campus never considered.

South Mountain Company's proposed site plan for the subdivision.

Updated August 17

At a public hearing on a proposed four-house subdivision, commissioners discussed the concept of “attainable housing” at their Thursday night meeting when describing the Island’s current housing needs.

The request from South Mountain Co. to purchase 3.17 acres from Island Co-Housings’ 29-acre Red Arrow Road in West Tisbury involves the construction of six structures — four of which will be residential homes, with a total of 11 bedrooms.

Island Housing Trust will ultimately become owners of the property, and the buildings will be groundleased. 

The project, originally approved by the commission in 1998, has undergone various minor modifications over the years, and has finalized the construction of 53 units out of its 66-unit approval. 

Two 797-square-foot two-bedroom houses will be designated for workforce housing, with a 140 percent area median income (AMI) restriction; one 797-square-foot two-bedroom house will be available for rent, with 80 percent AMI restriction. A 1,296-square-foot, four-bedroom year-round house with “a garage/studio with a detached bedroom” — with an option to increase the house to five bedrooms — will be sold to West Tisbury residents Mila and Julias Lowe, who are partners with South Mountain in the purchase. 

The site will also consist of shared storage and a solar parking structure equipped with electric vehicle charging stations.

Commissioners tripped over the specifics of the restrictions, expressing confusion over the income requirements before getting clarification from South Mountain CEO John Abrams. “All four of them are restricted; there is no market unit,” he said. 

The four-bedroom house “will be sold and restricted as year-round housing, permanently,” but will have no income limits.

“So it’s sold at market value?” said commissioner Doug Sederholm.

“No, sold at less than market value,” replied Abrams.

“Well, sold at whatever the market value is for something that has no income limits and a potential of five bedrooms,” said Sederholm.

Abrams explained that the house will be made available through a subsidy. 

“This is new ground,” said Abrams, “and we’re going to be seeing a lot of it, especially if we have a Housing Bank.” 

Abrams said he expects to see a decrease in housing AMI restrictions Island-wide, and houses will instead be restricted to year-round occupancy, which, according to the real estate community, will “tend to devalue properties by about 20 percent.” 

Commission chair Joan Malkin noted, “That’s not a subsidy, that’s just a condition which reduces the fair market value.”

Abrams clarified that two of the units with 80 percent AMI restrictions will be “deeply subsidized,” the 140 percent AMI-restricted unit will be “moderately subsidized,” and the four-bedroom house is still “somewhat subsidized,” considering all the prices will still be less than market value.

Adding testimony, West Tisbury planning board member Amy Upton said of the project, “There is an element of it that’s a little bit of a pilot plan,” but for the most part, the planning board is “very much in support of this plan.”

She said the goal is “to make housing available and affordable to people who may make more than what would qualify them for affordable housing, [but also] who don’t make enough to buy into the market how it stands today.”

Upton continued, “I think there’s an indication on the Island at this time with the discrepancy between affordable housing and extremely expensive housing … There’s an ever-widening middle, and it’s primarily made up of the Island’s year-round workforce.” 

Because of this, Upton said, these types of restrictions will play an important role in “maintain[ing] and or build[ing] community going forward.” 

Further clarifying, Abrams said that most Island affordable housing units have income restrictions — even at 100 or 150 percent AMI — that disqualify much of the Island’s workforce. 

“We need to go higher than that,” he said. “Because people making that much are shut out of the housing market.”

MVC economic development & affordable housing planner Christine Flynn briefly noted the distinction between 80 percent AMI-restricted affordable housing and 81 to 150 percent AMI-restricted community housing, and said the four-bedroom house proposed by South Mountain exceeds those categories. 

Upton offered up a third category: “attainable” housing, although not an official designation “yet.”

Upton said she believes the concept of increasing what is deemed “attainable” housing will be useful in strengthening understandings of the year-round housing market and the needs of the Islands’ residents. 

“It’s the beginning of something we need to be doing a lot more of on Martha’s Vineyard,” she said.  

In other business, the commission reviewed a proposal by Michael Morrison to demolish 43 Look St. in Tisbury, a requirement for houses over 100 years old. The three-bedroom, 2,726-square-foot house in Tisbury is located outside the William Street Historic District, and is not listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) or any other historic register. 

MVC DRI coordinator Alex Elvin said that the town assessor deemed the property “slightly below average” in its condition. A structural report by John Lolley identified a handful of problem areas in the existing house, including water intrusion, rot in the attic, and “structural cracking in various places.” 

The commission subsequently voted 8-4 in favor of holding a public hearing regarding the demolition. 

The commission approved the demolition of 17 School St. in a 10-0 vote, with commissioner Kate Putnam abstaining. In consideration of the primary “significant factors” regarding the demolition proposal, commissioners ultimately decided that the benefits outweigh the detriments. 

The house, listed in MACRIS, was designated as historically significant by the Oak Bluffs historical commission, but not as “preferably preserved,” with an agreement by the homeowners to make use of any original materials in the new construction. 

The proposed replacement will sit on stilts, as it is located entirely within the 100-year floodplain and FEMA flood hazard zone, will have a footprint increase of 632 square feet from its existing 1,300 square feet, and will be moved 25 feet closer to the edge of the adjacent wetlands.

Although commissioners agreed in a 9-2 vote that the proposed demolition’s effect on character and identity would be a detriment, raising it, and connecting it to the town sewer system, and increasing energy efficiency — all of which have been proposed by the homeowners, “[is] going to make something unlivable into something that’s liveable,” said commissioner Fred Hancock.

The homeowners are also going to be “restraining the house into the legal setbacks for the lot which the current structure isn’t.” 

Additionally, Hancock said, according to the proposal, the replacement structure will be “designed in the spirit of the original house.” 

Following the commission’s July 21 approval of the proposed Island Autism master plan in West Tisbury, commission chair Joan Malkin informed commissioners that a letter submitted by an abutter shed light on a change to the project which seemed to have flown under the radar, and had not been considered when the project was approved. 

“While the record was open, we received a plan from the applicant which differed in one respect from the prior plans,” said Malkin. Due to “sheer oversight,” she said, “the document didn’t make it into the record … The procedure here wasn’t picture-perfect.” 

The Island Autism’s proposed campus features a 4,807-square-foot central building with guest rooms, an apartment, kitchen, and office space, in addition to five separate living units, a barn, and a farmstand.

Misplaced correspondence from the applicant citing plans to move the location of the farmstand caused the change to be overlooked prior to the project’s approval, triggering abutters Cathy Weiss and John Karalekas to inform the commission of the relocation. Weiss had relayed in her letter that the change in location of the farmstand was triggered by a need for more traffic flow in and out of the farmstand parking lot. 

“What was communicated to us then was a plan that was clearly more modest than the recently updated plans,” the letter read. 

Because the commission approved the project, the plan change can not be entered into the public record, but can be addressed in an issuing of certificate of no effect to Island Autism. 

The certificate of no effect would state that having had the complaint letter “would not have impacted the commission’s findings or decision.” 


Corrections made to clarify the misplaced correspondence was from the applicant citing a change in farmstand location.



  1. Although a noble goal I see this approach as “fuzzy math” presented but a building firm that will financially gain by this very vague build out

    • You are absolutely correct this company is all about making money off the back of pretending to do good works. They changed the whole look of Cronig‘s with the pretense of solar power and now we have some thing that looks like a gas station awning. They cut down the trees to allow solar, not an even trade for me. This company has hoodwink the MVC many times prime example in the article is having to pay $150,000 or do like kind work. Money is the mothers milk for housing not like kind work. Please MVC don’t get fooled again.

  2. I think this is a much needed “new category” for the island. The middle class sustains our island economy and is being pushed off island. I know many of you believe tourism is the heart and soul of the economy here but, it wouldn’t happen without the middle class. I am 100% for this new approach. Attainable Housing has a nice ring to it.

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