40B Plan Draws Protests at Final MVC Hearing

By MANDY LOCKE

Emotions ran high throughout the final night of public testimony regarding a Chapter 40B affordable housing development that, if approved, would place 20 homes on 4.9 acres of land near Tisbury's center.

Save a letter of support from a Spanish teacher who says he must leave the Island because of the housing crisis, none of the four dozen people who crowded into the Martha's Vineyard Commission's meeting room at the Olde Stone Building in Oak Bluffs Thursday night, or any of the stack of letters the commission received, offered any words in favor of the proposed Fair Winds condominium complex.

One after another, neighbors stood to complain of noise problems, traffic congestion, the loss of 60-year-old oak and maple trees and potential runoff from the sloping site of the Fair Winds property. A faint but distinct chorus of "not in my backyard" resonated over three nights of public hearings, as neighbors pleaded with the MVC to reject the project.

Abutter Dennis Lopez read a moving statement about the neighborhood surrounding the project site at Franklin Terrace and Greenwood avenue extension. He bemoaned the loss of what he called "a quiet, blue-collar community," new saplings that will take 40 years to grow to the height of existing trees and a project "so dense, so aggressive, so unattractive."

"I've never seen a 40B with less community merit," said Mr. Lopez, who sits on Tisbury's planning board but spoke as a neighbor.

Even some who stand at the front line of the affordable housing movement joined the neighbors in criticizing the project.

"I urge you to completely turn it down," said Juleann VanBelle, the chairwoman of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, who spoke as a private citizen. "I don't see any benefits that could outweigh the detriments. It's on the backs of a neighborhood that doesn't deserve it."

Ms. VanBelle, whose comments earned loud applause from the room full of neighbors, also said that 40B projects - which allow developers to bypass certain local zoning regulations if 25 per cent of the stock is reserved for residents earning 80 per cent of a region's median income - set impossible standards for towns.

"It puts the town on a treadmill they never can get off," she said, suggesting that every additional house built adds to the number of affordable units necessary to meet the 10 per cent threshold above which 40B does not apply.

One MVC member expressed skepticism over the developer's profit margins, capped by state statute at 20 per cent for 40B projects. "Forty-B is a pretty poor piece of legislation," Robert Zeltzer said. "The purpose of this, before it began being manipulated by developers, was about affordable housing."

Mr. Zeltzer said he wanted full disclosure of any potential profitability among the partners, such as brokerage fees, that might not be included in the pro forma report.

"We've already spent $450,000 to go through this process," said Tom Richardson, one of Fair Winds's developers. "We're entitled to profitability; it's the American way."

The overwhelming criticism comes after three local businessmen - Mr. Richardson, Jim Stevenson and Ed Herczeg, doing business as JE&T Construction - reduced the number of homes in their proposal from 24 to 20. Mr. Richardson also said the developers would sell an additional home as affordable if the balance between costs and potential public financing allows them to hit their anticipated revenues.

The businessmen also agreed to install denitrifying septic systems to minimize nitrogen loading in nearby Lake Tashmoo. In addition, Fair Winds would set aside nine homes for Islanders earning up to 120 per cent of the county median income for one month before posting the homes on the open market.

Mr. Richardson, visibly upset by a series of accusatory comments, said he had to take exception to criticism that the Fair Winds development is ill-conceived and ill-intentioned.

"If affordable housing weren't done by developers, it wouldn't happen," Mr. Richardson said. "We're not trying to screw anyone here. This is very discouraging, I must tell you. This is discouraging."

He looked into the audience as a few people shook their heads and mumbled a response.

Access rights over Herring Creek Road, a section of which Fair Winds developers would use for incoming traffic into the condominium association, has been debated throughout the public hearing. MVC counsel said the commission did not need to deal with access issues, and could simply require that the issue be resolved before construction could begin.

Fair Winds's developers delivered a memorandum - complete with 11 Tisbury planning board approvals which rely on Herring Creek Road access - arguing for use of the private way by prescriptive rights. The matter continues to be discussed in the town of Tisbury.

The MVC closed the public hearing Thursday night, but the written record remains open until July 25.

This 40B development is the first in front of the MVC since the state land court granted it full review power over such developments. Commission members explained to the public that they will review the project like any development of regional impact - considering the benefits and detriments.

If approved by the MVC, the project would be referred to the Tisbury zoning board of appeals for a comprehensive permit. Appeals of a commission decision for a 40B would be registered in superior court, while an appeal of a local zoning board decision on the 40B project would be sent to the state housing appeals committee.

In other business, the MVC signed off on all of the conditions for the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown, modifying one of the provisos it had sought originally because it would have conflicted with a town bylaw. In addition, the commission clarified a condition allowing for public access for walking and cross-country skiing along the course's perimeter. Access will be year-round, but the club will only provide parking Dec. 1 through March 31 for public users. The Vineyard Golf Club has now officially met all of the commission's conditions.

The commission also voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing for Black Dog owner Robert Douglas's request not to complete MVC-approved landscaping plans by the railroad car in front of the Black Dog Cafe on State Road.