A plan to convert an old house off Water street in Vineyard Haven into affordable apartments will require review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact, the commission decided last week.
The location of the building at 6 Water street near the congested Five Corners intersection was cited as a primary reason. In making its decision, the commission also cited its role as a regional planning agency, and the need to think about long-term impacts.
“We’re a planning agency. I think we should study the big picture,” said Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd, who urged his fellow commissioners to review the housing project as a DRI.
Commissioner Joan Malkin agreed. “We owe it to our constituency to open it up to the public,” she said.
The discussion before the MVC last Thursday night was during what is called a concurrence review, which happens in certain instances when the commission must decide whether a project merits review as a development of regional impact.
The property at 6 Water street, sandwiched into the Stop & Shop complex, is owned by the Island Housing Trust. The house was purchased in 2012 by Steve Bernier, the owner of Cronig’s Markets, who later donated it to the housing trust. The trust has since developed plans to tear down the house and rebuild it into six one-bedroom apartments. The trust used $20,000 in Community Preservation Act money to design the project and is working under Chapter 40B, the state law that allows a somewhat expedited review for affordable housing projects. The commission has the power to review Chapter 40B projects.
Three of the apartments are planned to be accessible for people with handicaps. The new two-story building would have photovoltaics on the roof, and would need to be elevated because it lies in a floodplain. No onsite parking is planned; Island Housing Trust representatives said the project was an effort to tap into the walkability of the area.
The project was referred to the commission by Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick. At the meeting Thursday there was some debate about whether to require DRI review. A prior meeting of the commission land use planning subcommittee had voted 3-1-1 to recommend review.
Housing trust executive director Philippe Jordi and president Richard Leonard appeared before the commission and said they were hoping to move forward with the project in time to qualify for an annual cycle of housing grants.
“We recognize the importance of this location as a gateway to the Island,” Mr. Jordi said, adding that the location was part of the reason the housing trust was pursuing the project. He said Dukes County Regional Housing Authority guidelines would limit the apartments to one or two residents each and that because there would be no parking, impact would be lessened.
But Linda Sibley, who had voted against the review during the subcommittee meeting, said she had changed her mind.
“It is, as has been pointed out here, next to a very congested area,” Mrs. Sibley said. “It is in an area which is undergoing redevelopment.”
Commissioner Brian Smith said that a public hearing would not change the fundamentals of the project. “What benefit did LUPC think they were going to get from a public hearing?” he said. “The building and the size is what it’s going to be.”
Mr. Leonard said he was not sure how the proposed plan would be improved by going through a DRI review, and suggested that the project was receiving more scrutiny because of the Stop & Shop process.
“We have a need, we have a great plan, and we’d ask you to consider that and ask us to go forward with the town who we’ve worked with closely,” he said.
“It’s not about the merits of the proposal,” said commissioner Fred Hancock. “One way or another, the vote isn’t about whether this is a good project. The vote is about whether it needs to be reviewed as a DRI.”
Mrs. Sibley disputed Mr. Leonard’s suggestion.
“I have a problem with us being portrayed as bad guys because we think the project deserves thorough public review,” she said.
Mrs. Malkin said the project could benefit from review. “I don’t dispute that you have undertaken obvious efforts to meet the Island Plan and to minimize this, minimize that,” she said. “But those things go to the benefits and detriments which is the kind of thing [a hearing] would address.”
Mr. Leonard said he had not intended any disrespect with his statement.
In the end the commission voted 9-3 with one abstention to recommend the project as a DRI.
Mr. Hancock said a public hearing will be scheduled as soon as possible to help the Island Housing Trust meet grant deadlines.
The commission will not meet again until July 10.