Pennywise Path Gets Subcommittee's Nod

Martha's Vineyard Commission to Give Final Consideration Thursday; List of Conditions Attached

By JULIA WELLS

A key subcommittee of the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted last night to recommend approval of the Pennywise Path affordable housing project in Edgartown, along with a hefty list of conditions aimed at softening the blow to both the neighborhood and the environment from 60 rental units.

"I'm not going to be satisfied unless there are conditions that take into account that there are threatened and endangered species in there," declared commission member Linda Sibley, who chaired the meeting of the land use planning subcommittee.

The comment came during a discussion about possible conditions - including restrictions on outdoor lighting - to protect a frost pocket located in the middle of the proposed development.

The town wants to build the 60-unit government-subsidized rental housing complex on 12 acres in the outskirts of the Ocean Heights section of Edgartown. The property abuts the 118-acre Pennywise Path Preserve, a Martha's Vineyard Land Bank property that the town took in an eminent domain purchase five years ago. At the time of the taking, some 57 acres were set aside for future municipal use.

The town has an agreement with The Community Builders, Inc., to build and manage the 60-unit housing project. The largest nonprofit urban housing developer in the country, Community Builders is based in Boston. The housing project - first of its kind in the town - is planned as a mix of low and moderate income rental apartments.

Filed under Chapter 40B, a state law that governs low and moderate income housing projects, the project is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The full commission is set to vote on the housing project on Thursday night.

Last night eight members of the commission worked their way through a draft list of conditions.

Among other things, commission members agreed that the project must be connected to the town sewer and that tenant preference should be given to Edgartown residents first and residents of Martha's Vineyard second.

There has been much discussion about access to the housing project. The developers had originally planned to offer two access roads - one through 12th street from the Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, and a second access through Metcalf Drive, a road that comes in from the West Tisbury Road and runs alongside the Vineyard Golf Club.

But problems cropped up with the second access because it would require removing a conservation restriction from a portion of the golf club property. Removing a conservation restriction is a complicated business that requires an act of the state legislature, among other things.

In the end the project developers said they could not wait for the second access, and the project is now planned using only one access road - via 12th street.

Last night the land use planning committee decided that a second access through Metcalf Drive would in fact be a detriment, not a benefit and members voted to adopt a condition requiring that the access to the project be limited to 12th street.

"Where is there a need for a second access?" said commission member Paul Strauss.

"Personally I think [an access through] Metcalf could create more traffic," said commission member John Breckenridge.

"I'd like to add my name to the group that thinks Metcalf makes things worse," said Mrs. Sibley.

There was some discussion about limiting parking in the development as a way to mitigate the traffic impacts on both 12th street and the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, but in the end commission members abandoned the idea. Michael Donaroma, an Edgartown selectmen who attended the meeting, suggested that the town study the traffic impacts two years after the development is built and return to the commission with the results.

Protection for the frost pocket spawned a lengthy discussion about outdoor lighting, and sparks flew briefly when Mrs. Sibley clashed with a spokesman for the development company over the plan to put lights on a crosswalk.

Charles Eisenberg insisted that the lights were important for safety, but Mrs. Sibley disagreed.

"There is no lighting at crosswalks anywhere in town - we don't have lighting at crosswalks on Martha's Vineyard and people aren't getting hit," she said, adding in testy tones: "That's why you can see the Milky Way here and you can't see it anywhere else."

There was no move to reduce the size of the project.

In the end the land use planning committee voted 7-0 with one abstention to recommend approval of the project with conditions.