Housing development raises water supply concerns

The Island Housing Trust is proposing a nine-unit, senior housing complex on State Road in West Tisbury.

The front elevation of the 401 State Road project.

Updated Jan. 24

More details are needed before an affordable housing project for seniors gets the green light in West Tisbury.

The West Tisbury planning board voted unanimously to continue the public hearing held on Monday regarding a project on 401 State Road, an affordable housing development aimed to serve those 60 years and older.

The proposed project consists of a clustered neighborhood of nine rental apartments and a community space located within five buildings, all of which will have a level of accessibility for those with mobility issues.

The project is being built on about a third of a 3.58 acre, town-owned property.

“It’s going to be a beautiful project and it’s really going to contribute to the community and to helping the affordable housing problem,” Island Housing Trust (IHT) real estate project director Keith McGuire said.

IHT won the bid for 401 State Road in 2022, but plans had to be pushed back after its design partner, South Mountain Company, decided to leave the project because of issues with the West Tisbury affordable housing committee — including rudeness from committee members.

Union Studios from Rhode Island, which had experience with building on-Island affordable housing projects, would take South Mountain Company’s place.

Alanna Jaworski, an associate with Union Studio, said the project was located in a “really wonderful location” thanks to its proximity to various amenities, such as the post office and the up-Island Cronig’s Market.

The one-story buildings would be built in styles similar to other IHT projects, such as Scott’s Grove in West Tisbury. Jaworski also said the project would use native plantings to give a feeling of “being in the woods.” She said this would make for a pleasant walking experience for residents while minimizing impact to the surrounding area. Additionally, asphalt would only be used for the main driveway and the accessible parking spaces while the rest of the parking would use a permeable surface.

Jason Kroll, senior design engineer at consulting firm Horsley Witten, said the parking lot will also have two electrical vehicle stations with underground electrical work connecting from Lambert’s Cove Road. Additionally, a 10,000 gallon underground cistern tank will be installed for fire engines and a KleanTu NitROE wastewater treatment system will also be installed to mitigate nitrogen buildup.

Project representatives are also continuing to work with West Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Pachico about the various safety issues.

The board and neighbors of the project had a series of questions to ask project representatives. Among various points raised, a major concern was the usage of water at the site, which comes from the State Road and Lambert’s Cove Road area.

McGuire said he had talked to a water engineer about whether there would be enough groundwater and whether the amount needed for the residents would impact the neighbors. “It’s hard to be conclusive without a serious audit and an actual water test is what I’ve been told,” he said.

“Why not do this water study ahead of time if this is a critical issue?” board chair Leah Smith asked.

McGuire said a water study would require cutting down some trees and drilling a well alongside testing the neighbors’ wells. Additionally, if the test impacted the area’s water supply, the developers would be liable and need to take care of it.

“It’s kind of a large process, so I think we would do it if we saw that there was a problem,” McGuire said.

Additionally, according to McGuire, IHT had never had to prove there was enough water to advance a project before and usually this was an issue that would be resolved afterward.

Sarah Rosenthal, an abutter to the project who also submitted a letter with concerns, found the lack of water testing worrisome. “We, as the abutting property … worry very much this could impact our ability to get water,” she said. “I would think it very important to have water testing before you build an entire project.”

Sheila Morse, a real estate broker, said water has been something discussed from the beginning and getting a water test isn’t a big deal.

“Just get that out of the way so it satisfies our neighborhood,” she said. “If there’s no problem, great … We are supporting this project but it seems there is so much work being done and if there is a problem with the well, how are you going to handle the issue?”

Board member Virginia Jones also pointed out that the water should be tested for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other possible pollutants. She also pointed out that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is conducting a study to analyze whether there was enough water in different areas of the Island.

“We didn’t have any supporting data in order to compare it to something else,” she said.

Aside from water issues, board member Matt Merry said he found the amount of vegetation that would be lost under the current plan concerning. He said the developers had not addressed the visual impact of the project and wanted more replantings or other ways to minimize the disturbance outside of the 50 foot setback of the site. He added that the emergency vehicle turnaround route was another part that should be hidden from view as much as possible.

“This thing’s going to have a huge visible impact to both the road on Lambert’s Cove and State,” he said, pointing out a landscape plan showing mitigation efforts will be needed.

McGuire said there are plans for planting white pines, evergreens, and blueberry bushes, to reduce visibility of the neighborhood. Existing plants will also be used with further details in the future.

However, board members wanted a landscaping plan. “We know you’ve done good work in the past, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to meet the usual requirements,” Smith said.

West Tisbury resident Cathy Weiss expressed concerns about the overall construction disruption for neighbors that the project would bring and how much light would be produced by the area.

When asked about traffic, McGuire referred to a traffic study done by Andover-based engineering firm Vanasse & Associates, Inc. stating the amount of traffic produced by the project won’t have a significant impact.

Two members of the West Tisbury affordable housing committee voiced their support for the project.

“These are our community members who are in desperate situations who are served by these things,” committee chair Jefrey DuBard said, who asked meeting attendees to keep in mind the people who would be helped by the project.

Amy Upton, who serves on both the affordable housing committee and the planning board, said the many presentations IHT presented to the committee emphasized an effort to minimize disturbances to the area.

“This is definitely not these guys’ first rodeo,” she said. “We can look at a lot of projects that they’ve been involved in and see they really do take great care with blending their projects into the existing environment.”

After further discussion and going over details about the floor plans, the board unanimously approved continuing the public hearing on Feb. 12 at 5 pm and asked the project representatives to return with more information regarding the concerns raised.

A previous version of this story had the incorrect surname for Leah Smith.


  1. The only elevation shown for this project is butt ugly! Why not show some more elevations? I also agree with Matt Merry’s comments about the loss of vegetation and the visibility from the roads it would appear this project needs a good deal more study

  2. “South Mountain Company, decided to leave the project because of issues with the West Tisbury affordable housing committee — including rudeness from committee members.”
    Could this be an accurate representation of how the Committee works with prospective contractors? Disappointing, if so…

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