Public hearing continues for Southern Tier project

The M.V. Commission hears testimony on proposed Oak Bluffs affordable housing development.

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The development will be located off of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and will feature rental units for residents who earn 30 to 11 percent AMI. — Courtesy MVC

Updated Jan. 24, 2023 6:50 pm

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission continued its public hearing Thursday night on a proposed affordable housing project, Southern Tier.

Located at 85 Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs, the Southern Tier development will neighbor both residential and public/community areas, including the YMCA, Ice Arena, and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School; the one-, two-, and three-bedroom Southern Tier units will be available to renters with incomes between 30 percent and 110 percent of area median income (AMI).

The development will feature rooftop solar generation, electric vehicle charging stations, 68 parking spaces, and an advanced nitrogen-removing septic system.

Many of the specifications for the proposed development, which has been brought to the commission by developers Affirmative Investments and Island Housing Trust, mirror those of the recently MVC-approved Meshacket Commons project, slated for Edgartown. 

A second phase of the project calls for construction of additional multi-family units on an adjacent 24-acre parcel made available by the passing of the “doughnut hole” land swap legislation last year. 

The development will be attached to an access road off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road that will loop through the property. Developers noted that there could be a potential extension to the access road, contingent on the future approval of the second phase of the project.

Unlike Meshacket, located on 36 Meshacket Road, and slated to consist of 40 affordable housing units (36 rentals, four for ownership), the Southern Tier project will feature 45 units on the 7.8-acre property. That currently undeveloped property sits south of the Southern Woodland district of critical planning concern (DCPC), much of it needing to be preserved, per MVC’s open space policy.

“I’m a bit concerned that the worthy goals of a sense of community and quality of life are at the expense of habitat that is clearly a priority,” said commissioner Jeff Agnoli. “We should be thinking more in terms of density.” 

“Working people elsewhere live in buildings that are closer together, that are much more practically laid out,” he said, “rather than the sprawl that we’re seeing here.” 

He said the same goes for Meshacket Commons, which is planned to be less dense than Southern Tier, with 36 housing units on 8.5 acres. 

“These are aesthetically pleasing, but it’s at the expense of abutters and priority habitat,” Agnoli said. He urged consideration of increased “density that achieves the same ends.” Commissioner Brian Smith agreed. 

The project also calls for a community building, which, at their last meeting, some commissioners argued was unnecessary, as it takes away space for potential housing units. 

“Our goal in this entire design is to create a sense of community,” noted Craig Nicholson of Affordable Investments.

Commissioner Trip Barnes said that the project proposal shows “a lot of wasted space,” and that the community building simply takes away from much-needed housing. 

“This business about ‘oh, community’ — Martha’s Vineyard is a community,” commissioner Trip Barnes said; “you’re surrounded by community.” Southern Tier won’t be able to serve enough people, he said. “We should be looking at [developing] an apartment building, or two.” 

Some other concerns were raised Thursday about the location of the access road, which is slated for the southern edge of the property from Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. 

Commissioner Linda Sibley said she’s wary of “putting that amount of traffic next to a residential area,” noting that an alternative could be putting it next to existing public-use buildings. 

A letter written to the commission from a group of abutters also took issue with the location of the access road, particularly in consideration of the potential road extension. 

“The proposed access road unfairly impairs our rights as adjacent landowners,” the letter stated. The group suggested a relocation of the road, which would cut into the Southern Tier property away from the existing residential area, and proposed a shift of the development further west, closer to the Ice Area, allowing for more space in between their properties and Southern Tier. 

Commission chair Joan Malkin agreed, and asked if that shift would be possible. 

Nicholson noted possible impacts to the protected green space if the development were to be moved, but said project representatives would take into consideration the concept, and discuss it at the next MVC Land Use Planning Committee meeting. 

The commission subsequently voted in favor of holding a “mid-hearing” with the Land Use Planning Committee on Feb. 6 to go over some of the concerns raised Thursday. The written record on the project will be open until Thursday, Jan. 30.

In other business, the commissioners approved the fiscal 2024 year budget, which begins July 1, 2023, and will increase by 18 percent, or $364,659, to $2,032,789. As a result, the town assessments will increase 24.50 percent, from $1,365,389 to $1,699,448, an increase of $334,059 (Aquinnah, $53,647; Chilmark, $241,698; Edgartown, $690,086; Gosnold, $9,631; Oak Bluffs, $270,703; Tisbury, $228,595; West Tisbury, $205,088).

The whole budget, and the $344,059 difference, will be split among the six towns and voted upon at town meetings in the spring.

6 COMMENTS

  1. More good news on the affordable housing front. I invite anyone interested in what this density looks like to come drive by 36 Meshacket Road. These large-scale AH projects are progressing without the need for a tax on Vineyard Homeowners and the creation of a new bureaucracy to develop AH. The present tranformation of the Vineyard is nothing compared to what is in store if the housing bank bill is implemented. The rate of development and population growth under the HB bill will be unsustainable. There is still time to say “No”. Keep Our Island Green

  2. The commission has outlived it’s original mission and has become a huge money vacuum to all island towns. It’s time to start voting no for the ever increasing money grab.

      • Albert, usually I stay away from your comments posted just for the sake of posting, but I feel this one needs addressing.
        Yes, I’m a washashore, and I’m ok with that. And so are the reasonable mature adult native born residents I’ve come too know in my 39 years here. They also consider me, and all other washashores who live here year round, islanders. What I am not is native born. And I’m ok with that as well. Doesn’t mean I haven’t treated the island and it’s history with the respect it deserves.
        And I’ve made it here quite well. And it is with sadness that I’ve decided to “cut and run”. This island is not what it was in 1984, 1994, 2004 or even 2014 and as much as you like to spout out “make the island great again” it will never be what it was. Not with the constant overreach of groups like the MVC and all the many other committees and groups who feel the need to chime in on everything everybody wants to do.Or people like yourself who worry more about where someone was born then what they bring to the community. I have to wonder though Albert, you’ve mentioned your children were born here, but were you? Were your parents?
        I’m leaving behind a bunch of good friends and a life that I once was happy and comfortable with. But with the direction the island is heading, I’m not happy or comfortable here anymore. And life is to short to not enjoy.

  3. Let’s hope people read this and see how the costs keep going through the roof to fund the MVC. A 25% increase this year because they have no guidelines for an applicant and just vote something down because they do not like it. Yet look what they approve at much greater density for affordable housing. Either density is bad or it is not, but the MVC gets to make its own rules at there whim. The $1.69M is not the total budget that is just what the island tax payers have to pay try adding another $600K +/- that State and federal taxpayers chip in. And why do they call it a budget they spend as they like and just ask for more money that is not a budget. The MVC treats the island tax payer like a blank check. Past time to rethink the need for this outdated institution. The Island towns can now handle what the MVC was set up to do.

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