The scarcity of affordable housing on Martha’s Vineyard is nothing new, but as the Gazette reported in a story earlier this month, the situation seemed to reach a new level of urgency this summer. With tourism rebounding, retailers looking to hire staff to handle more business were stymied by a shortage of places to house their workers.
The addition of eight new rental units at Post Office Square in Edgartown will hardly turn the tide, but their approval this week by the town planning board against heavy opposition from neighbors made an important statement about the critical nature of the need.
Developer Charles Hajjar, who manages rental units off-Island, plans to build five apartments on the second floor of the building that houses the Edgartown Post Office, and three more in a building that houses a Bank of America ATM and Ocean Breeze Bedding.
Nearby residents are understandably concerned about worsening traffic jams at the already clogged Triangle intersection. While the roundabout has made it easier to get to the outskirts of Edgartown, it’s now tougher than ever to complete the last mile into the village. Quite apart from any new construction, the flow of traffic into Edgartown does need to be addressed.
Worries about adding cars to the confusing post office parking lot are also well founded, but Mr. Hajjar has agreed as part of the construction project to reconfigure the lot and add fifteen new spaces.
While few homeowners would welcome the arrival of high-density housing to their neighborhood, the site of the new apartments is squarely within the town’s B-2 zoning district, which was specifically designated for mixed uses. Located on the Vineyard Transit Authority bus line, it would be quite possible for tenants living in this location to get by without a car at all.
The Island desperately needs more year-round housing, not only for retail workers, but for teachers, nurses, community service professionals and a range of other critically needed, but modestly paid personnel. Locating high-density housing in central business areas where many of the jobs are located makes sense for many reasons, not the least of which is that it preserves open space elsewhere.
The planning board made the right call in approving the apartments. Board member Robert Sparks, summing up the board’s deliberations just before the vote, said it best: “We have a traffic problem, but we have a housing crisis.”