The Martha’s Vineyard Commission determined on Thursday that a proposed affordable housing project near the busy Five Corners intersection in Vineyard Haven would not contribute to traffic problems or have other adverse affects on the community.
The commission voted unanimously to approve the project, which is being developed by the Island Housing Trust and will include six one-bedroom apartments. The housing trust must still submit a landscape plan, architectural details and other documents to the land use planning committee (a subcommittee of the MVC) before it can be issued a building permit.
Commissioner Linda Sibley acknowledged that the project was still “a conceptual thing that hasn’t been pinned down,” but believed that enough details were in place for the commission to make a decision.
On its website, the housing trust describes its proposal for a “transit-oriented apartment building” at 6 Water street. The design does not include space for tenant parking, but does include a drop-off area big enough for one car. The commission saw that as a benefit to an already congested part of town. They pointed out that tenants will live within easy walking distance of a grocery store, a rental car company, the Vineyard Haven bus terminal and other amenities.
The six apartments will be restricted to households earning less than 80 per cent of the area median income (less than 60 per cent if more funding is available). Median income for a family in Dukes County is about $86,000, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The project was reviewed by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). Several town boards, business owners and Island residents submitted letters of support to the commission during the review period, which began in June.
Tisbury town administrator John W. Grande sent a letter on July 10 endorsing the project as an example of smart-growth development. “Potential places of employment, shopping and services are within easy walking distance of the residences,” he wrote. “The proposal also provides housing at a scale and density consistent with the traditional village development pattern in Vineyard Haven.”
On Thursday and at earlier meetings, the commission looked at such issues as wastewater disposal, open space, lighting, aesthetics and economic impact as they related to the proposal. In almost every case they envisioned the changes as having a neutral or positive effect on the community.
Commissioner Joan Malkin supported the project, but pointed out that it would result in the loss of open space. “This is a great project, but I do not agree that open space is one of the plusses,” she said. “There was a ton of it before.”
The absence of family housing options was also a concern. The units are not intended for families, said Mrs. Sibley. “But if a couple is there . . . and they have a baby, they are not going to get kicked out.” However, “the rules don’t allow you to have an extra bedroom,” she said. “So [the apartments] are not going to put kids in the school.”
Commissioner Christina Brown objected to the idea of housing that doesn’t allow for kids. “We have great schools, we have room in our schools, we have a good tax base,” she said. “Having no kids in the schools is not a benefit.” The commission anticipated that the overall tax impact would be neutral.
More than once during the review process, commissioner Clarence (Trip) Barnes advocated for expanding the proposal to include more than six units. “In all seriousness, I don’t see why you don’t do seven or eight if you can fit them down there,” he said on June 14. But housing trust director Philippe Jordi said the number of units already had been increased from five to six because state guidelines had indicated that the original five were too big.
Mr. Barnes made one more attempt on Thursday, moving to condition the proposal to include eight, rather than six, units. “I just think that this thing could be put on hold until we put eight in there,” he said. “Here is our classic opportunity.”
But other commissioners believed that altering the number of units would require reopening the public hearing, since the original plan was for only six units. “It was not left in the mind of the public that there possibly could be a substantial change to this plan,” Mrs. Sibley said.
Mr. Barnes voted in favor of the proposal, but went on record as saying he would prefer to see eight units.
The housing trust used a $20,000 grant awarded by Tisbury’s Community Preservation Act Committee last year to design the project. It hopes to complete the permitting process by this fall so that it can apply for further state and local funding.