A key subcommittee of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on Monday voted without dissent to recommend approval for the Bradley Square project in Oak Bluffs with a list of conditions, perhaps paving the way for the full commission to endorse the mixed-used affordable housing project when it begins deliberations in the coming weeks.
The commission’s land use planning committee voted 6-0 with four abstentions to recommend approval of the multi-faceted project, which includes affordable housing, artists’ work spaces and the historical preservation of the Bradley Memorial Church, the Island’s first African-American church.
Although it is not bound to follow the recommendations of the committee, the full commission usually gives the recommendation considerable weight when voting on a project.
While some residents have raised concerns about the size and scale of the project and its effect on parking and traffic, several commissioners Monday said the project’s benefits outweighed the potential detriments and impact on the neighborhood.
“I would say this project has plenty of value,” commissioner Mark Morris said. “The streets will be cleaned up, the neighborhood will be improved and it will save the [Bradley Memorial Church] and bring it back to cultural relevance.”
“Eventually people will get used to this and accept it for the benefits it provides,” agreed commissioner Susan Shea. “This will fit into the neighborhood.”
If the plan is approved, the old Bradley Church on the corner of Masonic and Dukes County avenues would be moved and renovated to create a cultural center with a residential apartment and office. Two new buildings would then be built with five residential apartments in each, with 10 of the 11 apartments to be sold at affordable rates under state guidelines. Four of the apartments are planned as studios where artists would live and work.
The Island Affordable Housing Trust plans to build the project, using John Early as a contractor.
The existing building on the property was built in 1895 as a mission to help Portuguese immigrants assimilate into society. In later years, it became the Bradley Memorial Church, the first African-American Church on the Vineyard, where the Rev. Oscar Denniston led church services and lived upstairs with his wife and five children. The building has been abandoned for several decades and is in poor condition.
Project supporters include a small band of artisans who have formed a budding arts district along Dukes County avenue, and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
Last month, proponents for the project revised their plans by eliminating one of the housing units from the Bradley church building while also adding additional parking.
They also submitted a draft list of offers, which often develop into the list of conditions that go with approval. The offers include the creation of six on-street parking spaces and 11 off-street parking spots for each of the 11 residential units, and a stipulation that restricts the community center occupancy to a maximum of 74 people and limits its hours of operation from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.
Project backers have also offered a local preference to Oak Bluffs residents for four of the 10 affordable residential units, and have proposed to paint stop-sign pavement markings and crosswalks on Masonic avenue at both ends to improve visibility. They also have agreed to lower the height of the Denniston House from 33 feet, six inches to 31 feet, nine inches, and to keep the two other housing buildings to 31 feet, seven inches.
They also agreed to preserve and restore the historically relevant items within the historic Denniston House’s sanctuary with the assistance of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and the Cottage City Historic District Commission, and to build an artifact display case within the Denniston building.
Members of the land use planning committee on Monday went through a standard review worksheet which asks several broad questions about the project’s impact on the environment, neighborhoods and persons and properties. When they came to the question of whether the project was appropriate for the location, several commissioners said it was appropriate based on several reasons.
“It brings more affordable housing to town,” Mrs. Shea said.
“It saves a historical building,” commissioner Jim Powell said.
“It brings people together,” commissioner Katherine Newman said.
When it came to the more specific question of the project’s impact on traffic and parking, commissioners were less emphatic in their support. Commissioner Richard Toole, also the land use planning committee chairman, remarked “this will definitely increase traffic and parking, there is no doubt about that.”
But commissioner Mark Morris said this was not enough to derail the project.
“How many people go into Oak Bluffs for the fireworks or the Fourth of July, I know I do, and I always find a parking spot. It’s not easy, but I find one. I think we’re jumping the gun a little bit with this parking . . . what it comes down to is common sense. I don’t think people are going to be parking in the middle of the road here, and remember, it’s only [busy] two months of the year,” he said.
Commissioner John Breckenridge, however, said commissioners should carefully consider the project’s impact on the neighborhood before taking a final vote.
Proponents of the Bradley Square project were expected to meet with commission staff yesterday afternoon to review the list of offers and address several other issues related to the project. The full commission is slated to begin deliberations on the proposal at their regular meeting on June 19.
In other developments, Vineyard Haven resident Donald Muckerheide took out a petition this week asking that the vote taken at the April town meeting to allocate $400,000 in community preservation act funds for affordable housing at the Bradley Square project be rescinded.
Mr. Muckerheide, who currently has a proposal for an 11-unit housing project on Dukes County avenue in front of the commission, needs to gather 100 signatures to place an article on the warrant of the next scheduled special town meeting and 200 signatures to call his own special town meeting. He said he initially planned to get an article on the warrant of the June 24 special town meeting, but has now set his sights on gathering the required 200 signatures to call his own special town meeting.
He said proponents of the project misled voters when they said at the April town meeting that town residents would have preferred status for all 10 affordable housing units in the project, when only four of the 10 would have a local preference for town residents.
“Oak Bluffs residents voted for this under false pretenses,” he said.
But Ron DiOrio, chairman of both the board of selectmen and the town affordable housing committee, said such accusations were patently untrue.
“We said Oak Bluffs residents would receive preferential status when we award these units; that has always been the plan and it is still the plan,” Mr. DiOrio said. “There is a difference between preferred status and a residential requirement. I personally don’t believe in residential requirements; affordable housing is an Island problem and not just an Oak Bluffs problem.”