‘It’s not up to me entirely’

West Tisbury hopes South Mountain Co. considers a return to the 401 State Road project.

John Abrams said during the Zoom meeting that he was uncertain South Mountain Company would return to the 401 State Road project.

Updated Sept. 30

Uncertainty remains on whether South Mountain Co., which withdrew from the 401 State Road affordable housing project, will return to it as Island Housing Trust’s (IHT) design partner. 

South Mountain Co. CEO John Abrams recently sent a letter to IHT CEO Philippe Jordi about the company’s decision to withdraw from the project because of issues with the West Tisbury affordable housing committee. IHT, which was awarded the project, has said it remains committed to moving forward.

A discussion about “how to move forward” was held during the West Tisbury select board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Cynthia Mitchell, chair of both the select board and the affordable housing trust, said the discussion that was held during a trust meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 27, “pointed to things that need improvement.” 

“We also agreed that there will likely be an extended conversation involving the select board and the affordable housing [committee] going forward, to address more in detail some of these things that have come up,” Mitchell said, acknowledging this issue will not be resolved during the board meeting. 

Select board member Jessica Miller said when she read the letters, she understood South Mountain Co.’s decision, but was also disappointed in it. “I guess I would like to see what we can do to see if we can get South Mountain Co. to rejoin this project,” she said. 

Select board member Skipper Manter agreed with Miller’s sentiments. He said having South Mountain Co. rejoin, rather than finding a new contractor, would speed up the process. However, he asked for details from the affordable housing committee members, who also held a meeting after the trust’s meeting on Tuesday. 

Committee member Lawrence Schubert gave a rundown of the meeting, adding that “every member had sort of a different take on their reading of the letter from South Mountain Co.” No vote was taken to reach out to South Mountain Co. during the meeting. 

“Personally, I think it could be a good idea, because they have experience in our community. But we, as a committee, move in a direction as to that issue,” Schubert said, adding that a “general discussion” took place about what the committee’s responsibilities were. 

Manter said, even after reading the letter, it was unclear to him why South Mountain Co. withdrew from the project.

“[Abrams] referenced certain things, but I don’t understand how the committee acted to make them think that way. I just don’t know,” Manter said. 

Schubert read off a section of the letter stating, “The majority of the committee expressed their disappointment vehemently and sometimes disrespectfully,” despite accepting the proposal South Mountain Co. and IHT presented for 401 State Road. Schubert admitted that the committee was “fairly spiky,” and “at times disrespectful of the applicants[s].”

“I, for one, am sorry for my part in it, but as a group, I think the affordable housing committee would like to try to move forward,” Schubert said. “I think we were micromanaging a process, maybe unnecessarily, and not in a positive fashion.” 

Miller, who “has been observing” the past few committee meetings, said while “there are good intentions” among the members, she agreed that there was a “rough and spiky” tone, and “did not feel that it could be a collaborative process.” 

“I don’t mind spiky … spiky happens. That was not the problem,” Abrams said. “The problem was there is a part of that committee, three members, seem to have a sense that this is an important project, that we should listen, that we should think together, we should process together. And another part of that committee, four members, who were just slamming, and it became clear it was a dysfunctional process and all of that is less important to us, to South Mountain, than whether it would be possible, whether the priorities of the committee would make it possible, to do something that would really be good for the town and for the people that lived in that place. We didn’t get that sense that mattered.”

Abrams continued by saying he felt this stemmed from “a different view” of approaching the project. 

“Our approach to doing projects is that we do projects where we think that we can succeed because we have a client who thinks in some way like we do, or is interested in finding out what our thinking is,” he said. “That was the part they just did not want to engage in.” 

Abrams said the letter was written to address the committee’s “dysfunctional nature,” because of how important the organization is to the town. He underscored that not all of the committee members were difficult to work with. 

“Those people who were disrespectful and were difficult, they seem to want something — I still don’t know what they want. I have no idea,” Abrams said. “But they seem to want something that is fundamentally different than what we want, and what we want is something that will resonate with the people who stood up at the town meeting, not this year but last year, and said, ‘That part of the roadside is important.’”

Abrams concluded his points by saying it is important to build “something that is hospitable and friendly and private” for future residents. 

One question lingered for the town officials at the meeting: Would South Mountain Co. be willing to return to the affordable housing project? 

“I entirely can’t answer that question … it’s not up to me entirely. There’s a group of people who would have to agree to it,” Abrams said. 

Jefrey DuBard, a committee member and IHT board member, suggested the committee reflect on how it can engage with South Mountain Co.

Susan Silk, a former committee member, urged the committee, South Mountain Co., and IHT to remember that “many of us who got involved in the effort to have that become affordable housing were committed to the notion that we needed to focus on the needs of seniors.” She said the proposal presented to the committee “did not address some of the issues,” which she still finds concerning. 

IHT board chair Doug Ruskin followed up in an email to The Times on Friday pointing out that IHT’s application states among the seven rental units planned for the project, there are “four designated for preference to households 55 years or over.” 

Mitchell said the board should set up a meeting with the committee as soon as possible to discuss the 401 State Road problem and other issues relating to it, such as the committee’s role and its membership makeup. She said it may take more than one meeting. West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand and Manter both said it may be beneficial to have further help, such as the town clerk or a consultant, if changes need to be implemented. 

Abrams agreed it is worth exploring how effective the committee can be, even if they “start from scratch.” 


  1. How about some professional mediation? It sounds as though these two groups share the same important larger goals. Perhaps they could use some help determining a path to an agreed upon process of getting there, it could include formally agreeing to basic principles like careful listening and clear communication of concerns. This is such valuable work being done by all involved coupled with the best intentions. It could very well lead to the most successful outcome, for the town, the island and the fortunate future residents. Best of luck!

  2. Sounds like John Abrams isn’t getting his way ( and why does he and his company seemingly make tons of money off these projects all the time??) and he’s picking up his ball and going home. Good riddance.

  3. South Mountain will join the group again if there is money for them to be made. This is a for-profit company and they’re entitled to make a profit but let’s not canonized these people they are a business. Their businesses is building to whoever has the money into who ever will pay them, They do not work for charity they do work for charity groups that pay them. This group should just move on and were plenty of contractors around. And it may wind up costing it much less.

  4. when will the populace understand that both these companies are for profit entities? INTo a a developer taking tax and CPA monies to build rental units and for profit buildings. This in turn does not come back equally in taxable property.

    Also don’t be misled by advertising that doesn’t tell the whole story. Read between the lines… If it sounds too good it usually isn’t.!

    • Happy to see I am not the only one that understands the con that is being played out with some of these affordable housing projects. I thought I was the only one who can read between the lines. The only real way to help with the housing crisis is to change our zoning, 3 acre zoning is ridiculous.

  5. From the very well written article it appears as though privacy from roadside is important and privacy for those occupying the units is important. And it seems as though there is a path to resolution and they can likely work it out whatever the issues are.

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