Renaming of ‘Southern Tier’ gets pushback

The Oak Bluffs select board, at odds with the affordable housing committee, cites lack of communication in decisionmaking.

The land on which the development will sit, marked as parcels "O" and "T" is made possible following a land swap between Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank and Oak Bluffs, where town owned landlocked "S" parcel was swapped with MV Land Bank's "T."

With several projects in the works, the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee discussed that they will soon be looking to sink their teeth into a new project. But before making any conclusive plans, the committee discussed the need to wrap up work on existing initiatives.

At their Tuesday meeting, the committee touched on a recent, and somewhat contentious, interaction between the Oak Bluffs select board and affordable housing committee chair Mark Leonard, during an update on a name recommendation for the affordable housing development in the Southern Woodlands.

“We took the renaming of the Southern Tier to the select board last Tuesday,” Leonard stated, where Island Housing Trust project development manager Liz Volchek provided the board with information regarding the recommended name, “Takanash Knoll.”

During that meeting, on Oct. 11, Leonard presented the name to the select board, after explaining that the current name of the project, Southern Tier, was merely a placeholder until IHT came up with a better one. 

Southern Tier, which will be located on newly acquired town owned property on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road — made possible by July’s approval of the ‘doughnut hole’ land swap with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank — will consist of a total of 60 housing units. The first phase of the project, which will feature 45 affordable housing units, is slated to be reviewed by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in the near future. 

After putting forth a request for proposals (RFP) for construction of the housing project in 2021, the town of Oak Bluffs ultimately granted IHT and Boston-based Affirmative Investments the development contract.

Immediately following the naming update from Leonard and Volchek, select board chair Ryan Ruley asked for justification of the name, and inquired as to how the name “Takanash Knoll” was chosen.

Volcheck said through outreach efforts by IHT and Affirmative Investments, various organizations were approached, such as NAACP Martha’s Vineyard branch, members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, who ultimately highlighted the name along with a small handful of others. The proposed name received support from all who were engaged. 

The name Takanash, Volchek said, is an Island name, and is a historical reference to native John Takanash, farmer and landowner, circa 1680. Knoll, she said, refers to the physical location of the site. 

“I would just start off by saying I know that in the past, the communication [between the affordable housing committee and the select board] wasn’t the best,” Ruley said, triggering contention among the board. “I’m not taking away from this naming, but I think this is another example of that.” 

Affordable housing committee member Pete Bradford noted that the proposed housing is the developer’s project, and the naming is the responsibility of said developers, which would be IHT and Affirmative Investments. Bringing the recommendation to the select board, he said, was really just a courtesy. 

Ruley said there are “several sources” of town funds being invested in the project, and expressed frustration that the naming decision came with “no participation from [the select] board,” which lacked the opportunity to weigh in. He said in the future, he’d like “to see more involvement by the town.” 

Leonard emphasized that it’s not a done deal, and there is time to make changes if absolutely necessary. 

Town administrator Deborah Potter noted that IHT has already included the name Takanash Knoll on its documents submitted to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for DRI review. She said she “refused” to sign off on the name a week preceding the agenda item, and opted to wait until the select board could discuss it. “Basically, we have to approve it,” she said. 

Select board member Brian Packish piled on to an increasingly heated reproach. “We end up in these disconnects,” he said of the committee and the board, “that end up in conversations like this [and then] conversations at cocktail parties and dinners, and newspaper articles, [that] permeates into this vibration that really isn’t a representation of the work that’s been done to get here … That’s the fundamental challenge.” 

“If you don’t want to feel how you feel right now,” Packish said to Leonard, “something’s got to change.” 

Eventually, select board member Emma Green-Beach inquired as to why the town would need to sign off on the name at all, as the project is managed by IHT and Affirmative Investments, and seemed to be aligned with the opinions of the affordable housing committee. 

The select board ultimately decided to table the decision until IHT approaches various tribal representatives to ensure the use of the name is appropriate. 


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