The West Tisbury affordable housing committee will move forward on a proposed affordable housing project at 401 State Road with a new designer, after South Mountain Co. formally confirmed last week it would pull out of the project.

In a letter to town officials sent on Nov. 4, South Mountain Co. CEO John Abrams said he felt the company’s initial withdrawal had led to improvements on the town’s affordable housing committee but that the project was no longer the best use of his company’s resources. He confirmed his earlier decision to drop out of the development.

“We hoped our withdrawal would bring attention to the problems with the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee,” Mr. Abrams wrote. “It has. The WT Selectboard (and the committee itself) have taken important steps to help the AHC become more effective.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Abrams had written a letter expressing issues with the committee’s unwillingness to engage collaboratively with the project developers. In the weeks since, the committee met with representatives from South Mountain Co., the town select board and Island Housing Trust, which received a request for proposal to develop the project, in an attempt to smooth out the issues.

During that process, the affordable housing committee announced that chairman Michael Colaneri would step back from the committee due to personal reasons. Another committee member, Ted Jochsberger, resigned, and James Klingensmith was appointed as the committee’s interim chairman.

The committee will now officially move forward on the project with a new designer.

At the Nov. 16th meeting, IHT project development coordinator Keith McGuire said they were in talks with new design firms, including Union Studio Architects, who were already interested in the project. Mr. McGuire said the new design firm would be asked to draft a series of questions about the project RFP, to head off issues that had bogged down the process thus far.

“It’s about getting the question right so we can get the right answer,” Mr. McGuire said. “Let’s get this design process off on the right foot.”

A series of public hearings will be planned to get community input on the project, according to committee members.

“Every member of the town will have an opportunity to be heard,” committee member Jeffrey Dubard said. Mr. McGuire estimated that a designer will be selected soon, with an aim to have RFP questions prepared sometime next month.

The proposal to develop the wooded lot on the corner of State Road and Lambert’s Cove Road was approved at a May 2021 town meeting, where Mr. Abrams spoke strongly in favor of the project. Island Housing Trust was awarded the contract on Aug 17, 2022, after being approached by South Mountain Co. with plans to design the project, and for IHT to develop it.

In his Nov. 4 letter, Mr. Abrams said he was confident that the housing project would move forward with a new designer, and further explained his reasons for dropping out, saying that the company needed to refocus on other affordable housing initiatives, especially with a different design firm expressing interest in the project.

“We are as excited as ever about the 401 State Road project but do not feel that our participation is necessary,” Mr. Abrams wrote. “We can do more for affordable housing if our limited resources are not dedicated to 401 State Road. We think it’s an all-around win for our town and our people.”