A plan to allow the developers of the upscale Field Club in Katama to pay $1.8 million to the Edgartown affordable housing committee instead of designating three lots on their property for the housing, as required by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, hit a snag this past week.
Although the plan has the backing of the town affordable housing committee, the commission at its regular meeting on Thursday decided the plan needed further discussion, voting 6-4 to schedule a public hearing on the matter.
The vote ruffled feathers this week among some Edgartown officials.
“It should be a decision made by this town, this housing committee,” said Fred B. (Ted) Morgan Jr., a former longtime selectman who is a member of the town affordable housing committee. Members of the committee attended the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting yesterday to discuss the matter.
But citing concerns over potential gentrification and the segregation of housing by income levels, at their meeting last week a majority of commissioners said they felt the matter deserved more discussion.
“I think if you pushed fast forward on the clock for 100 years on the Vineyard you would find neighborhoods that have been gentrified and people have been run out [of certain areas],” commissioner Andrew Woodruff said. “You will find people living only in these affordable housing projects being creating right now.
“The one thing I care passionately about is trying to find ways to keep the working class people in our subdivisions and in our neighborhoods across this Island.”
Commissioner Ned Orleans agreed.
“I worry we’re just going to have these affordable housing projects in one part of the Island and these [high-end] neighborhoods in another . . . I don’t think it’s good for the people who live there, and I don’t think it’s good for this Island.”
The Field Club project was approved as a development of regional impact (DRI) in 2004 and includes a plan to build a 32-lot subdivision on the 24-acre site along with a members-only recreational club. Club owners plan to sell 500 memberships for about $100,000 apiece.
Members will have the use of eight tennis courts, a pool, pond and lawn games area, an 11,000-square-foot fitness center, 7,200-square-foot learning center and tennis pavilion. They will also have access to another private club, The Boathouse, which is being built on the site of the old Navigator restaurant at the foot of Main street.
The subdivision plan was initially devised by a group that included Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma. The group bought the property in 2002 for about $800,000.
Last November the group sold the land to Field Club developers Gerret C. Conover and Thomas LeClair for $12.35 million.
As part of the earlier commission approval of the subdivision, the developers were required to donate three lots to the Edgartown affordable housing committee. The lots were to be deed restricted and remain affordable in perpetuity, and were to be located within the subdivision.
But after negotiating with the Edgartown affordable housing committee, earlier this year the Field Club proposed a payment of $1.8 million in lieu of the three lots.
The plan was presented to the MVC land use planning subcommittee earlier this month and was approved by a 4-0 vote following a brief discussion. But the full commission was less supportive of the plan last week.
A review of the video tape of the meeting shows that Chris Murphy said he supported holding a public hearing on the matter. “There has been a miniscule amount of input on this subject . . . I support opening this to the public,” Mr. Murphy said.
Chairman Douglas Sederholm questioned whether $1.8 million was an adequate price to pay to in lieu of three lots for affordable housing. “This sounds like a lot of money, but consider the nature of this project; the building lots all come with nonmembership to this fancy-fancy club,” he said.
Sean Murphy, an attorney representing the Field Club, said the $1.8 million would allow the town affordable housing committee to create five or six affordable housing units.
“As you know it often takes people time to get the financing and build their homes . . . the intent here is to place five or six families into housing immediately,” he said.
Some commissioners agreed.
“This is about affordable housing, pure and simple, and if they can do more with the money this way then I support it,” said commissioner Peter Cabana. “We want people who are already part of the community to stay here.”
Mr. Murphy suggested the commission’s position may cause his client to have second thoughts about the deal.
“If the commission does vote for a public hearing, my client will probably withdraw [this offer], unless the town pursues this aggressively . . . this is something that works for them, but it’s only a borderline economic benefit . . . this is what the town of Edgartown wants, but it is likely my client will withdraw and you will wind up with three pieces of raw land rather then six families placed in homes. That’s a decision you can make,” the attorney said.
But in the end the vote was 6-4 to hold the hearing. Linda Sibley, Chris Murphy, Susan Shea, Mr. Orleans, Mr. Woodruff and Mr. Sederholm voted yes; John Breckenridge, Richard Toole, Jim Powell and Mr. Cabana voted no.
Yesterday members of the Edgartown affordable housing committee came before the town selectmen to voice their disapproval. Selectmen said they stand behind the housing committee, and voted to write a letter to the commission.
Housing committee members said they will draft their own letter of complaint.
Committee chairman Janet Hathaway said she was personally reassured at a previous commission meeting that the agreement would be ratified by the commission.
“What happened between June 30 and now?” she asked. “We took 18 months on this decision. We feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under us.”
Mr. Donaroma agreed. “I was proud of the progress you made,” he said. “There’s nothing good about dragging this out. Our town is completely unanimous on this.” He continued:
“At the end of the day this has to happen. When I was on the commission we used to often say we’re not here to social engineer. Maybe things have changed.”
As of yesterday, a date for the public hearing had not been set.