After three public hearings, four design plans and five months of intense debate, Chilmark voters next week will have their say in deciding the future of the Middle Line Road project.
At a special town meeting Monday night, voters will tackle a 12-article warrant, with all but two of them related to the project - the first affordable housing development commissioned by the town. The vote will answer key questions about the development's direction as it moves - if it moves at all - into the engineering and architectural phase.
The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett H. Poole will preside over what is expected to be a well-attended and emotionally charged meeting.
"This is a very important decision for Chilmark, and I'm looking forward to hearing from the town," board of selectmen chairman Frank Fenner said yesterday. "We need to do whatever we can to have affordable housing here, but we need to know how the town feels about what we have come up."
The plan for Middle Line Road calls for 12 units spread over a 21-acre parcel of town-owned land off Tabor House Road. The price tag is estimated at $3.5 million.
Facing voters Monday will be a list of 10 questions on subjects ranging from the project design to guidelines for the resident homesite program to using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to pay for the development.
There are also two articles that ask voters to appropriate money for highway repairs and the maintenance of Meetinghouse Road and Tea Lane.
The plan for Middle Line Road has evolved over the better part of a year. Chilmark hired the South Mountain Company last winter to conduct a feasibility study, requiring that the consultant investigate the viability of a 12-unit development mixing six rental units and six resident homesites. In the months that followed town officials and residents wrangled over the details of the project design, and South Mountain eventually developed the plan that will be under consideration Monday. It calls for the housing units to be grouped in three clusters - in the southwest corner and in the southeast and northeast quadrants of the parcel.
Along with the design, another flashpoint has been the funding of the project.
On Monday voters will discuss whether to use CPA funds for the project. The Chilmark CPA oversight committee has allocated 75 per cent of its funds for affordable housing. Selectman J.B. Riggs Parker has publicly questioned whether these funds are applicable to the project, though town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport indicated several weeks ago that CPA funds could indeed be used for the development.
But perhaps the most controversial article of the evening will be the final makeup of the development in respect to rental units versus home ownership units. Voters will be asked whether the town should restrict the plan to rental units only.
The push for all rental units comes in contrast to the housing committee's original plan, which called for a mix of six rental units and six home ownership units. This layout was agreed on after a survey of town residents last year showed that 67 per cent of respondents approved of a mixed plan over one with only rental units. The survey was conducted at the urging of Mr. Parker.
But in recent months, debate erupted over whether the plan should include ownership lots at all.
Mr. Parker, who has argued in favor of limiting all of the units to rentals, has insisted that the matter be taken up on town meeting floor. Members of the housing committee have argued the plan should reflect the town's response to the survey.
And last week, the finance advisory committee recommended the all-rental option, saying it is the fiscally responsible choice for the town.
The board of selectmen is also divided on the subject. While Mr. Parker has advocated limiting the development to rental units, selectman Warren Doty has consistently defended the housing committee's desire for an even mix of rental and home ownership units.
Mr. Fenner, who has been hesitant to publicly commit to one position, said yesterday it was a matter of what is most appropriate for Chilmark.
"I believe the best thing for affordable housing and the best thing for the town is a plan for all rentals, but I understand the argument for homeownership," Mr. Fenner said. "Personally speaking, I like the ownership option, but as a selectman, I have to think of what is best for the town."
Regardless, he agreed that it should all be discussed at the meeting.
"I have tried to be open-minded through this whole thing and understand all the sides," Mr. Fenner said yesterday. "This is about affordable housing, and it is desperately needed in Chilmark. We need to know how the town feels about it, which is the best thing for the selectmen and the best thing for the housing committee, too."