Moving Houses Recycles Island History


As hundreds of Vineyarders pile trucks with clothes, furniture and children this fall to shuffle to another winter rental, two Edgartown houses will join the mass migration.

Destined for the dump when the owners decided to build new homes on the picturesque properties, both a 19th-century Victorian on the corner of Davis Lane and Pease's Point Way and a 1960s gambrel-roofed house off Meeting House Way will be relocated to town-owned property for use as affordable housing.

The Island Affordable Housing Fund, along with South Mountain Company, Edgartown's resident homesite committee and the two property owners, are revamping the Vineyard tradition of recycling houses in order to ease the less celebrated tradition of summer shuffling.

"It's a return to an age-old Island tradition of preserving and recycling housing," said Susan Spence, director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund. "In the olden days, Islanders wouldn't have considered tearing down a usable structure."

Brian and Anne Mazar and Rick and Marjorie Fuscone - both longtime Island visitors and new Edgartown property owners - had the same reservations when they contemplated clearing their new properties for houses that catered to their families' specific needs.

"We hated demolishing something that was usable," Mr. Mazar said of the two-story home on the former Bigelow property at Edgartown Great Pond. At the very least, the Mazars wanted to move the house back from the highly visible spot on the pond's edge.

But the historic practice of moving houses is now a labor-intensive and expensive endeavor, and has all but disappeared on the Vineyard. The logistical challenge alone - squeezing a large home along tight Vineyard roads, beneath sagging tree canopies - makes house moves all but impossible.

Both families found themselves discussing the problem with Island contractor and affordable housing activist John Abrams.

"I pitched the idea of them donating the home as well as the tax credit in cash for affordable housing," Mr. Abrams said. "It took a few minutes, but not many, for them to say, ‘Let's explore it.' "

By donating the house valued at $240,000, the Mazars will receive a tax credit of almost $100,000, which they will give in turn to help offset the cost of the move and setup by South Mountain Company. They will also avoid a demolition bill that could climb to nearly $25,000.

"Financially it is a total win-win for donors and the community. . . everyone comes out ahead," Ms. Spence said.

Land remained the missing, and most vital, piece of the puzzle.

"Every discussion about affordable housing will come back to property," said Alan Gowell, chairman of Edgartown's resident homesite committee. "Our work has become stymied because of lack of raw land."

The Mazars, Fuscones and the Island Affordable Housing Fund joined forces with the town of Edgartown, which just happened to have four 1.5-acre parcels on Metcalf Drive - sites contributed for affordable housing as part of the overall development plan for the Vineyard Golf Club, as approved by the Martha's Vineyard Commission in 1999.

"We are thrilled that the logistics have worked out with Edgartown so that these dwellings could be moved and serve other families on the Island," said Mr. Fuscone, who is donating the Victorian home a block from Main street.

The Bigelow property house will be divided into two units, one with three bedrooms and one with two. The Davis Lane Victorian will add another three-bedroom house to the Metcalf Drive neighborhood.

A Bay View Road house in Katama may join them this fall, but details have not been finalized with the homeowners.

"We're offering turn-key homes," said resident homesite committee member Janet Hathaway, noting that some of the homesite lots the town offered to eligible residents through the years remain unbuilt upon. "We give them the keys, and they essentially move in with their belongings.

"They don't go through the stress of having a builder put the package together," she added. "It's a very daunting process for them to begin building."

Two of the homes on Metcalf Drive will be offered to families making up to 140 per cent of the county's median income, while the other two will be designated for families earning only up to 80 per cent. The new homeowners will pay no more than 30 per cent of their family's income toward a mortgage. A deed rider will maintain these homes as affordable as long as the state will allow.

The houses should be ready for new families by next summer.

The resident homesite committee already has an official list of 25 Edgartown residents who are anxious to take advantage of affordable housing opportunities. But committee members expect an even greater number of families, unable to buy anything in a steep Island housing market, to enter a lottery for the houses in question when the time comes.

"We always have people come in from March to May. Their rent is the maximum they can possibly pay, or the owner is about to put the house on the market. They fill out an application, and we literally have someone's life on paper," Ms. Hathaway said.

Affordable housing activists hope this fall's project is the beginning of a parade of affordable houses along Vineyard roads. Right now, Mr. Abrams is looking for an open piece of land to store homes until parcels can be secured - creating a "used house lot" for people shopping for a home.

"The image is perfect. . .houses rolling down the road," Mr. Abrams said. "Homes from all over, from all eras sitting side by side on Metcalf Drive."