Emotions ran high at a West Tisbury affordable housing committee that saw tears, abrupt departures and a resignation as a dispute over a proposed affordable housing project in the town remains unresolved.

Tuesday’s meeting began with board member Ted Jochsberger announcing that chairman Michael Colaneri would be “stepping back” from the board because of personal issues.

After board member Jefrey Dubard spoke about the mentorship he received from Mr. Colaneri, Mr. Jochsberger said he wished “the kind words had been spoken at a previous time, and not when we were pushing out Michael.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Mr. Colaneri declined to comment on the proceedings or on how long he would be stepping away from the committee.

Committee members then voted in James Klingensmith to serve as interim chairman during Mr. Colaneri’s absence.

“I certainly hope that Michael will not leave us…I consider him the locomotive of this committee, and he’s just too big an asset to let him walk away,” Mr. Klingensmith said following his election.

Shortly after the vote, Mr. Jochsberger then announced his resignation from the committee.

“I will bid you all a very good night,” he said, before exiting the Zoom meeting.

Rise Terney, a board member who earlier gave a tearful account of Mr. Colaneri’s impact on the committee, also abruptly left the Zoom meeting, though it was unclear if she officially resigned.

In an email sent to town administrator Jen Rand on Tuesday, Mr. Jochsberger expanded on his reasons for resigning, saying that the committee had become factional and that he disagreed with the direction it had taken in recent months. 

"I was recently told that the committee should leave the details of projects to “those who know what they’re doing”. The implication being that the Committee (and the Town) should just award the project and just sit back and be quiet," Mr. Jochsberger wrote in part. "I’m afraid that at my age, that’s not acceptable."

He also voiced concern about the treatment of an unnamed member of the committee, saying it was "mean spirited."

"I find the animus shown to a senior member of the committee to be beyond reproach," Mr. Jochsberger wrote. "I understand that the committee has not functioned as well as it could recently. However, there have been extenuating circumstances involved."

The shakeup in the seven-member committee comes amidst an ongoing dispute regarding an affordable housing project proposed for a property located at 401 State Road. Issues came to a head back in September when the architect, South Mountain Company, said in a letter that it had withdrawn from the project because of concerns about the committee’s willingness to “engage collaboratively” with the company.

The project, which aims to develop a wooded lot on the corner of State Road and Lambert’s Cove Road, was approved at a May 2021 town meeting. On Aug. 17, the select board awarded Island Housing Trust the development contract.

The two sides have attempted to come together in recent weeks to discuss how to move forward with the project, holding meetings with the town’s select board and the project developer, Island Housing Trust. But the matter has remained tense, with town officials describing meetings as chaotic, and John Abrams, CEO of South Mountain Company, requesting that the committee address issues in its makeup.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the status of the 401 State Road project remained in limbo after the member resignation and departures, with housing trust project director Keith McGuire saying he didn’t have “concrete steps” for the project moving forward.

“It’s impossible to move forward at this point until we really figure out how we are going to move together with you,” he said. “I’m definitely a little bit shocked right now.”

Mr. McGuire also spoke highly of Mr. Jochsberger and Mr. Colaneri’s previous work on the committee.

“I respect the amount of work they’ve really put forward," he said. "That’s really made West Tisbury the most successful town in terms of active affordable housing efforts.”

Mr. McGuire explained that South Mountain Company had initially approached IHT with plans for them to design the project and for IHT to build it. South Mountain Company’s withdrawal has delayed the process, as IHT didn’t previously have to develop a request for proposals when they were awarded the contract.

Mr. McGuire said he will return to the committee in two weeks with a plan for the project’s next steps. He said the plan would take into account the committee’s previously expressed design concerns with earlier proposals.

Updated to include Mr. Jochsberger's letter of resignation.