Citing deep concern about the housing crisis on the Island, the Edgartown town planning board voted Tuesday to approve a plan to build eight apartments at Post Office Square.
In the unanimous vote, which came over the loud objection of neighbors, board members cited a dire need for rental housing.
“It is not going to solve the housing problem in Edgartown, but somebody has to start,” said planning board member Robert Sparks.
Developer Charles Hajjar is now cleared to apply for permits to build five apartments on the second floor of the building that houses the post office, and three more in the building that houses a Bank of America vestibule and Ocean Breeze Bedding.
His plan, which includes a complete redesign of the square parking lot, was approved this spring by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
The vote Tuesday came at the last of five meetings this summer, where residents and business tenants raised concerns about the impact of the development on parking and traffic problems at the busy square in the Triangle at the entrance to the Edgartown commercial district.
In passionate appeals to the board to deny the project, residents have argued that the apartments will intensify current vehicle congestion and parking shortages.
The board received 47 letters on the subject, 40 against the project. Each letter was read into the record over the course of the public meetings. In public testimony, some accused the planning board of misrepresenting the taxpayers.
But in the end board found traffic would not be significantly affected by the development.
“Six or eight cars is not going to make things any more difficult for you or me going through the Triangle trying to get our mail,” Mr. Sparks said.
He argued instead that the 40 people who moved into homes last year in other parts of Edgartown would have a greater adverse impact.
Further, he said this was the perfect place for a residential development, and he referred to the planning board’s B-2 master plan, which set out goals for the development of the mixed district.
“It is in line with what we have been trying to do for 15 years,” he said.
Board members also praised the plan to restructure the parking lot.
“They have taken the parking lot and changed it and cleaned it up and made access for walking and biking,” said chairman Fred Mascolo.
The plan adds 15 new spaces to the current lot and is designed to make the flow of traffic more logical and safer, according to a previous presentation by engineer George Sourati. The developer is allowing one car for each of the eight apartment tenants.
“We get a free new parking lot and we get 16 people out of the can’t-find-a place-to live pile,” said planning board member Robert Cavallo.
Though he thanked the townspeople for showing up and voicing their concerns, member Alan Wilson said the testimony had been more emotional than factual.
“I think we got conditions that addressed [the concerns] as best they can,” he said.
Each member spoke to the severe need for housing, some telling anecdotes to illustrate the situation.
Mr. Sparks said he had recently encountered a family that had been living in their car for three weeks.
“We have a housing crisis here,” he said. “We have a traffic problem but we have a housing crisis.”
He said the convenience of finding a place to park paled in comparison to the need of somebody to find housing. The housing created will not be affordable housing, but workforce housing set at market rates.
Member Michael McCourt said the vote was the most difficult decision he’s faced during his time on the board.
“I think it’s been very emotional,” he said. But in the end, arguments for the project outweighed the arguments made against it, he said.
Construction on the project will take place between September and April and will not prevent access to the post office, Mr. Hajjar said at a previous hearing.
Mr. Hajjar has been renting apartments off-Island since 1985 and currently manages 1,200 units, he said.
He said he hopes to complete the project by next summer.