Rental units versus privately owned homes: That's the subject of a survey being mailed to Chilmark residents today about a proposed affordable housing project at Middle Line Road.

The decision to seek resident input on the subject comes after discussion at a selectmen's meeting Tuesday, and as a group of approved homesite applicants have written a letter to the board citing the urgent need for private home lots.

The letter says: "We feel that the town residents who voted to appropriate town funds in order to financially support the development of these affordable housing units did so with consideration that the project would alleviate the affordable housing needs of the town."

Jeffrey O. Day, a town police officer and cosigner of the letter to the board, said, "We don't want rentals. We don't feel rental leads to home ownership."

A preliminary rendering done by Glenn F. Provost of Vineyard Land Surveying Inc. portrays mostly rentals on the 20-acre site, but Molly Flender of the affordable housing committee said yesterday these drawings were only the start of a discussion on how the land might be used.

She said she had hoped to bring a more definite proposal to a special town meeting in the fall, but said it has become clear to her and others that they are still a long way from coming up with a plan acceptable to everyone: "We do need to flesh out our plan. And first of all we have to agree on a plan." She now hopes to be ready for the annual town meeting in spring.

Mrs. Flender said everyone is in agreement that there will not be more than 12 units at the site; the question is the ratio of rentals to private lots.

At a special town meeting in October 2002, voters approved appropriating $56,000 to the project, which was defined then as six home-ownership units of affordable housing.

Selectman Frank Fenner said yesterday he is open minded about the rental versus ownership question. "I understand both sides. I can see great advantages to having a few rentals in town," he said.

Selectman J.B. Riggs Parker said: "I believe rental housing should be a component to it. That property is a town asset, and that is the only way the town can keep control of the land. With rental housing you can put in a new teacher, or a new policeman. Or you can rent to a senior citizen who would like to move out of their house and put their house on the market."

The survey is made up of several questions, from what the ratio of home ownership to rentals should be at the site, to what age group the project should serve and the income criteria. Over 800 surveys are being mailed; the deadline for return of the questionnaire is August 20. Surveys should be dropped off at the library or the town hall.

In other business, the selectmen are hosting a meeting with summer residents on Wednesday, August 11, at 7 p.m. at the community center.