Jenney Lane Plan Wins Unanimous Approval at MVC

By MANDY LOCKE

After nearly four months of review, the Martha's Vineyard Commission last night unanimously approved a 10-unit affordable housing project for the center of a densely-settled Edgartown neighborhood just behind Upper Main street.

"If the commission were in the business of building affordable housing, I think the plan that would be presented by us would looks a lot like this," said commissioner Richard Toole, complimenting the project's cluster-style design, the vernacular architecture and the proximity to town services.

Proposed by the Island Affordable Housing Fund and South Mountain Company, the so-called Jenney Lane development makes use of a 2.5-acre piece of vacant land in the otherwise built-out Pine street and Curtis Lane neighborhood.

Sold by Upper Main street residents Ralph and Olivia Jenney for a discounted price, the site will host 10 Island families struggling to enter the housing market. Each of the homes will be sold to households earning less than 140 per cent of the county median income - $85,000 for a family of four.

The development will enter a neighborhood already in transition. A traditionally working class community, the homes along Pine street, Curtis Lane and several other streets in the area have gradually been purchased by mainland buyers over the last decade. Of the nearly 100 homes on these streets, only half are now home to year-round Island families.

The project - thought by many to be the ideal approach to easing the Island's affordable housing dilemma - met passionate protests from several neighbors, who said the additional traffic would unduly burden an already fragile road and sidewalk system. Access road complications - which resulted in the elimination of one of the two entrances because of unclear ownership rights of Fisher Road - stirred further scrutiny and concern.

Even though the commission signed off on the Jenney Lane project last night, many of the access, traffic and site design issues have yet to be resolved. Those issues now rest on the shoulders of the Edgartown planning board members who will review the project next.

"Some would say we're passing the buck," said James Athearn, chairman of the commission last night.

The commissioners spent several hours crafting conditions that offered the planning board enough room to come to its own conclusion about some of the hot-button issues. The planning board will have the power to mandate that a second road access be created along Curtis Lane, a pedestrian and bike path be built and that houses can be shifted slightly in the current site plan. If the Edgartown board demands such changes to the plan, the applicant will not need to return to the commission for the final say.

The only detail to which the commission held fast involved driveways. If the planning board agrees to the neighbors' pleas that the each home have an individual driveway instead of two central parking lots, the commission wants to take another look at the project.

The commissioners acknowledged they walked a fine line in differentiating between regional and local concerns.

"From the regional standpoint, it's clear-cut. It's in one of the best places we have left to build affordable housing. It doesn't create a so-called ghetto. We could beat this to death. . . . If the town [planning board] wants to pick it apart and rearrange it, fine," said commissioner John Best.

Though commissioners agreed that even an ideal affordable housing project like Jenney Lane involved its share of compromises, nothing significant undermined its worth as a boost to affordable housing efforts.

"It's an incredibly important proposal. We know there are some problems, but most of the problems are preexisting conditions to the neighborhood, some of which will be exacerbated by more density in the neighborhood. But whatever exacerbation [happens, it] is not greater than what would be created in a normal subdivision. It's exemplary affordable housing," said commissioner Linda Sibley.