Despite continued pressure from some Edgartown officials, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Thursday stood firmly behind its previous decision to hold a public hearing on a request from the developers of the Field Club in Katama to pay $1.8 million to the town instead of designating three lots on their property for affordable housing.
After an hour of emotionally charged debate, the commission voted 10-3 to hold the hearing.
The commission took a similar vote on July 24, drawing darts from Edgartown affordable housing officials who have already endorsed the cash-for-housing lots plan. In the wake of telephone calls, letters and editorials in both Island newspapers, the commission decided to reconsider the matter at the start of Thursday’s meeting.
“We can help more people with this money . . . this is a better value for us and the people in need,” said Janet Hathaway, chairman of the town affordable housing committee. “We have deals for properties in line that are time sensitive . . . delaying this further could threaten what we have worked for,” she added.
But most commissioners took a different view, noting among other things that if the plan is considered a substantial modification of the commission’s previous decision to approve the plan as a development of regional impact (DRI), it automatically triggers a public hearing.
“The question is fairly simple: is this a substantial change? And I think this is clearly a big,” commissioner Linda Sibley said. “We’re not voting to reject this . . . we are simply providing a forum for people to offer their thoughts.”
“We have had letters to the editors and dueling editorials in the newspapers . . . people have gotten the impression we are against this . . . that is not the case,” said commission chairman Doug Sederholm.
The Field Club project was approved as a DRI in 2004 and included a plan to build a 32-lot subdivision on the 24-acre site. The plan was amended to remove seven of the lots to make room for the members-only recreational club.
The subdivision plan was initially backed by a group that included Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma. The group bought the property in 2002 for about $800,000. Last November the group sold the land to Field Club developers Gerret C. Conover and Thomas LeClair for $12.35 million.
As part of the previous approval of the subdivision, the developers were required to donate three lots to the Edgartown affordable housing committee. The lots were to be deed restricted and remain affordable in perpetuity and were to be located within the subdivision.
But after negotiating with the Edgartown affordable housing committee, the Field Club proposed a payment of $1.8 million in lieu of the three lots. The plan was presented to the commission’s land use planning subcommittee earlier this month and was approved.
But the full commission has been less supportive.
Commissioner Peter Cabana on Thursday said it was unusual for the full commission to go against the recommendation of the land use planning committee. But other commissioners disagreed.
“The [land use planning committee] is a function of who happens to show up that night,” Mr. Sederholm said. “It is not the first time the [full commission] has disagreed with the . . . subcommittee.”
Commission members have expressed concerns about the segregation of housing by income levels, but on Thursday they focused more on the lack of public discussion about the Field Club plan.
“This whole project has been kind of a black hole,” commissioner Chris Murphy said. “We haven’t really had public input at all . . . I think we need to open this up.”
Mr. Murphy cited a letter from Edgartown resident David Nash and Robin Bray raising questions about the plan.
“The practice of buying off those who would disagree with a project through donations or other forms of payment effectively silences those who might otherwise object, is an unhealthy situation and should not be part of the decision making process,” the letter states. “Any attempt to place a proper monetary value on such a move is going to be a significant challenge and needs to take place in a much more informed manner.”
A letter sent to the commission August 5 from the Edgartown selectmen argued that the decision by the affordable housing committee to accept the payment had been thoroughly vetted.
“[The affordable housing committee] is a very dedicated group of people who spend countless hours working on behalf of the town. The decision to accept these funds in lieu of land was certainly not one that was arrived at without many meetings, hours, consultations and much consideration given,” the letter states.
John Best, a former member of the commission, had another view. “If this wasn’t in the newspapers then most people wouldn’t even know about this . . . I can say that this plan has changed substantially from when I was a commissioner . . . at the very least we should talk about this,” he said.
The public hearing will be August 28.