After receiving approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission earlier this summer by a nearly unanimous vote, the Bradley Square project on Dukes County avenue in Oak Bluffs has gone to the town zoning board of appeals and once again drawn the ire of abutters and neighbors.
The commission approved the project on June 19 13-1, despite lingering concerns about size, density and impacts on a residential neighborhood. The plan is now before the zoning board of appeals for review at the local level. A July 17 public hearing was continued after a lengthy presentation and discussion.
At a continued hearing last Thursday, several residents said they worried the project would create problems with traffic and parking. Others asked whether the project — which includes affordable housing, artist work spaces and the preservation of the Island’s first African American church — could be reduced in size and scale.
The plan calls for the old Bradley Church to be moved and renovated to create a cultural center with a residential apartment and office. Two separate lots — one in a commercial zone and another in a residential zone — must be combined to accommodate two new residential buildings. Ten of the 11 apartments would be sold at affordable rates under state guidelines.
Some of the apartments are planned as studios where artists would live and work.
Artifacts now inside the Bradley Church will be archived and kept at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, while others will be placed on display inside the building. The Island Affordable Housing Trust will build the project with John Early as the contractor.
The project has seen both support and resistance over the past year. Project supporters include a small band of artisans who have formed a budding arts district along Dukes County avenue, as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Critics include abutters and neighbors who complain the project is too big for the proposed site and worry about traffic congestion and parking problem.
Donald Muckerheide, a Vineyard Haven resident who owns property on Dukes County avenue, said this week there already is a shortage of parking in the neighborhood which would be exacerbated by the Bradley Square project. He also claims project backers have manipulated the facts to win approval.
“They keep saying they saved the Bradley Church from the wrecking ball, but in fact there have been other plans that kept the building where it was with few changes . . . I question whether moving a building and adding housing, a community center and office space can be considered historic preservation,” Mr. Muckerheide said.
Patrick Manning, executive director of the Island Affordable Housing Fund, a sister organization to the trust, said this week he continues to be surprised by the opposition to the project.
“We offered a plan we feel offers something for everyone: affordable homes, historical preservation and work space for artists. We feel we have thoroughly addressed all concerns and questions from both neighbors, the [Martha’s Vineyard] commission and the zoning board of appeals,” he said, adding:
“I understand neighbors have concerns about this project, but I hope they don’t lose sight of all the positive things this will bring to the community.”
A review of the video tape from Thursday’s hearing shows that zoning administrator Adam Wilson said the applicant must meet with the wastewater commission again to recalculate the daily sewage flow to include the community center and the living and work spaces for artists.
Philippe Jordi, executive director of the trust, explained selection criteria for the artist spaces and how an artist would be defined. He said there has been a reduction from four artist spaces to three; preference will be given to artists in the two residential buildings but there are no restrictions on who is eligible.
When the discussion was opened to the public, several neighbors complained they never received letters about the project during the early planning stages. Others again raised concerns about traffic, parking and the size of the project.
After nearly two hours of discussion, the board voted 3-2 to close the public hearing. The board then asked applicants to respond to several questions before the project comes to a vote. Among other things, the board asked that the applicant meet with fire chief Peter Forend to determine if there is enough room for emergency vehicle access.
The board also will ask town counsel about the legality of combining the two lots. Deliberations will continue at a future meeting.