Jenney Lane Plan Gains Approval


The Jenney Lane project, a cluster of affordable homes slated for a neighborhood behind Upper Main street, cleared another hurdle this week with unanimous approval from the Edgartown planning board.

This is the last official step in a review process that began last July.

It's been an exhaustive and often tense review process. But this week, after all five planning board members signed off on the project, not even the lingering hostility from some neighbors dampened the developer's excitement about creating 10 homes for Islanders struggling with the housing crisis.

"We're as excited about this project now as we were from the beginning. It's always felt like a good idea to us," said John Abrams, chairman of the Island Affordable Housing Committee, the nonprofit group sponsoring the development. Mr. Abrams is also president of South Mountain Company, the West Tisbury company which will build the homes.

The planning board decision carried a few stipulations aimed at addressing the concerns of neighbors.

A new access drive will funnel traffic from two of the homes onto Curtis Lane instead of Pine street. These new residents are to share an existing driveway between two Curtis Lane properties. A crash gate prevents the other eight homeowners from using this route. In addition, the planning board pushed the much criticized parking lot further into the development. Now, one of the Jenney Lane homes will front Pine street, shielding the parking lot from the neighborhood.

It was not clear this week whether these changes will satisfy neighbors enough to keep the project out of court. A group of neighbors has already appealed the Martha's Vineyard Commission's November approval of the project. Yesterday, neighbors said they had not yet decided whether to drop the commission appeal. The group will also discuss appealing the planning board approval.

An appeal of the planning board decision would delay the start of construction.

"The planning board certainly addressed some of our concerns, but both the density and the parking lot were just glossed over," said David Wiley, a lifelong Pine street resident and one of the plaintiffs in the appeal of the MVC decision.

"It's been long and wearing for everybody. But that's the process," Mr. Wiley added.

Residents in this longtime working class neighborhood mounted a feisty protest against the Jenney Lane project last summer. Throughout the seven months of hearings, neighbors formed a homeowners association, hired their own traffic planner, filed petitions and sketched alternative site plans. Exchanges during public hearings were heated and often personal.

"I think some thought we were blue-collar people and we wouldn't care if there was more development in the neighborhood. Boy, did they get a surprise. We're not all blue collar now. We don't all live in little hovels with dead cars in our yards. You have to be organized through these hearings. We made them sit up and notice," said Jean Andrews, a longtime resident of the neighborhood.

The Pine street and Curtis Lane neighborhood has been in flux for several years. The traditionally working class community is losing its foothold. These days, practically as many seasonal residents own homes on these streets as do year-round families.

Mr. Abrams said this review process taught him not to underestimate the effect of new development on an established neighborhood.

"One of the things I did learn is that we have to recognize what a big thing this is for a development to come into a neighborhood that doesn't have it. It's a good thing, but a big thing and partially responsible for the reactions," said Mr. Abrams.

This project was expected by many to be a slam-dunk, an affordable housing project that raised the standard for others. It made use of an available thicket of woods surrounded by 50-year-old homes. The land was sold for a discount by Ralph and Olivia Jenney, Upper Main street summer residents who wanted to help the affordable housing problem. The Jenneys are retaining their lot and two others - all of them covenanted against further subdivision. The property is within walking distance of the Edgartown School, the supermarket, town hall and downtown. And the project made use of existing zoning provisions - a cluster bylaw - instead of relying on Chapter 40B, a state law that lets developers skirt some local zoning regulations if a quarter of the housing stock is affordable.

The number of "smart growth" components was enough to make planners giddy with excitement.

But neighbors complained of narrow roads already congested with traffic. They didn't like the cluster-style development, saying the parking lot and lack of driveways clashed with the character of the neighborhood.

Dee Lander, a Pine street seasonal resident and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said he felt the process was unnecessarily hostile.

"The big lesson to be learned here is that projects like this don't need to be difficult, and they shouldn't be. However, the developer, the commission and the planning board need to work more closely with the neighborhood. They should listen more closely to avoid the type of process we just witnessed," said Mr. Lander.

But these neighbors said they doubted the bad feelings would extend to the new residents in the Jenney Lane project. In fact, Mr. Lander said the newcomers will all be invited to join the homeowners association.