Peaked Hill Pastures RFP faces hurdles

Chilmark is looking at potentially amending its zoning bylaws to allow more apartments. 

Chilmark is looking to potentially amend zoning bylaws for the Peaked Hill Pastures plans. — courtesy Town of Chilmark

The Peaked Hill Pastures housing project in Chilmark is facing some snags, and a consultant may be needed to find answers. 

Peaked Hill Pastures was approved by Chilmark voters during last year’s annual town meeting. The project was planned to have 14 total units: 10 rental units, two “u-build” homesites, and two “turnkey” owner units. Turnkey means a developer designs and builds the housing units, and then a lottery system is used to choose eligible buyers. 

Shortly after the annual town meeting, Chilmark created a committee to make a request for proposals (RFP) for the project.

Committee member and planning board representative Richard Osnoss said during a Tuesday evening Chilmark Select Board meeting that while details are being hashed out, there were some lingering concerns. Correspondence from town counsel showed that the remaining acres of land would be encumbered, and could only allow smaller structures like sheds or outbuildings. 

“It’s approximately 16.5 acres in total, and this project is going to take up six to eight [acres],” Osnoss said. “There were concerns that perhaps the remainder of the acreage, due to the bylaw that limits the number of apartments to two on every three acres, would limit future town uses on that acreage.” 

The bylaw limitation means only nine apartments would be allowed in the area. Osnoss said the advice given by town counsel was not to rush the process, and have the planning board hold public hearings about possibly increasing the apartment threshold. Enacting the bylaw change would require approval at town meeting.

Osnoss also said the committee and the planning board agreed a consultant may be needed for the RFP process to see the “real costs,” and where funding could come from. That would help ensure the town didn’t take on unnecessary costs while undergoing other expensive projects, like repairs to the Chilmark School HVAC system. 

“None of us are experts on this,” Osnoss said. “We need a professional to lay out all the ramifications, all the possible choices.” 

The select board members also took some time to ask questions regarding the RFP. 

When select board member Warren Doty asked about the $150,000 appropriation from the Community Preservation Reserve on this year’s warrant article — which it states is for “planning, design, permitting, and construction layout” — Osnoss said this was to compensate Reid Silva from Vineyard Land Surveying & Engineering for the services he provided in the RFP’s process. However, $150,000 was a placeholder amount, and the cost is not expected to be this high. 

Select board member Jim Malkin asked how the project could move forward without the changes, and an option, Osnoss said, was using the state’s Chapter 40B statute, which allows the approval of affordable housing projects under more flexible rules. Osnoss said around 20 percent of the units would need to be restricted for households with an income of 80 percent of area median income. According to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the median family income for a two-person household in 2022 for the Island was $75,700. 

Peaked Hill Pastures was planned for people up to 150 percent of the median family income, to allow a diverse group of Islanders to live in the area. The figure for 150 percent of median family income for a two-person household in 2022 for Martha’s Vineyard was $128,900. 

“I would love to see the RFP developed and see exactly what our options are,” select board chair Bill Rossi said. 

Meeting attendee Jessica Roddy made a point that increasing the apartment threshold could threaten Chilmark’s rural character, although she supported the project. She later suggested following Aquinnah’s example, which has a warrant article for a special town meeting that could exempt town-owned properties from some zoning bylaws. 

After further discussion, the select board endorsed having a RFP issued to get further details and for the planning board to hold public hearings for the potential amendments. No vote was taken by the select board.