MVC Reopens Review of Housing Plan

By MANDY LOCKE

Neighbors sharpened their questions last night as the Martha's Vineyard Commission began its second look at an affordable housing project slated for the center of a densely-settled Edgartown neighborhood.

The Jenney Lane project, proposed by Island Affordable Housing Fund and South Mountain Company, calls for a cluster of 10 single-family homes just behind Pine street and Curtis Lane. The project aims to boost Island families of modest income into the ever-rising housing market.

But last night, residents asked commissioners to momentarily set aside the need for affordable housing and consider the diminished quality of life that existing residents would endure if the project is approved.

"I think we need to ask, ‘Are we making this project work in the neighborhood?' Because every time you accept a project, people get stepped on," said David Wiley, a resident on Pine street.

This is the Jenney Lane project's second round before the land use planning agency - called at the request of neighbors after eleventh-hour changes were made to the development's road access. Failed attempts to secure an entrance along Fisher Road, a private dirt drive off Curtis Lane, forced the applicant to funnel all of the development's traffic onto Pine street. The revised plan pushed neighbors already complaining of traffic congestion to a breaking point.

"To dump all of these 10 homes on Pine street when there are three alternatives … those [exits] would make good ones, and it can't be ignored. It's an injustice to all of us who live there. It will definitely affect our quality of life," said Jeff Wooden, another Pine street resident.

Two other potential entrances along Curtis Lane have been avoided because of encroachments on the privacy of abutters. One of these accesses cuts through a 22-foot space between a garage and a guest house.

"We'd be putting a road through these peoples' front yards," said John Abrams, chairman of Island Affordable Housing Fund and president of South Mountain Company. The current owners of the land, Ralph and Olivia Jenney, refuse to violate what they describe as longstanding agreements with these property owners not to use this passage. The Jenneys' access onto Upper Main street, which would run beside their current residence, is not on the table before the commission - a sore point which was referred to repeatedly by neighbors.

The Jenneys are selling 2.5 acres to the affordable housing group for $350,000 - half its appraised value. In addition to the discounted land sale, each of the homes will be subsidized by about $100,000 to ensure that homes are within reach of those households earning up to 140 per cent of the county's median income, $74,000 for a family of four. The applicant announced last night that one of the buildable lots will be used by Habitat for Humanity, which will build a home for a family of even lower income.

Acknowledging the soured tone of exchanges between many neighbors and the applicant, Mr. Abrams said that the Jenneys are "increasingly disillusioned by the way they've been treated through this process."

Despite the tensions, Mr. Abrams underlined the ever-pressing need to provide affordable housing on the Island and promised to bring back the working class element to the Pine street and Curtis Lane neighborhood, a population that's been slipping away with each home sale.

"This is simply an attempt to being back the blue-collar element to the neighborhood. I think our proposal will have far less impact than those already happening naturally by rising real estate values," Mr. Abrams said.

But the good intentions of the project could not allay fears of safety hazards and traffic headaches that neighbors along Pine street said they would experience. An independent traffic engineer hired by several of the abutters reported that the Pine street and Main street intersection is already failed and that additional traffic would create even longer delaysfor drivers trying to pull onto Main street. Even a letter from Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin stated the changed access, combined with the "narrowness of the roadway, the sharp bend in the road and the business on the corner of Upper Main street and Pine," concerned him.

One resident presented an alternative rendering to eliminate another element of the Jenney Lane plan that bothers many neighbors: no individual driveways. The cluster development design calls for parking lots along the perimeter, with a drivable lane around the center for loading. Jsemal Browne, a resident of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority's low-income apartments on Fisher Road, said he'd endorse the project if the commission voted his version.

In the end, residents acknowledged that some version of the Jenney Lane project will join their neighborhood, but they pressed the commission to raise the development's standards.

"Everyone understands this development in some form will happen soon. In its current form, however, it's less than desirable. As a reality check, would you approve this project if it were for-profit? You now have the opportunity to raise the standards for all affordable housing projects that come before you," said Steve Warriner, a resident of Pine street.

The public hearing was closed last night; the written record will remain open until next Thursday.