Chappaquiddick Residents File Appeal to Stop Homesite Plan

By RACHEL KOVAC

A small group of Chappaquiddick residents went to state court last week to try and block a decision by the Edgartown zoning board of appeals to allow three affordable homesites on substandard lots.

The appeal will delay the real estate closings on the three lots for five young Island residents.

In late August the Edgartown board of appeals voted unanimously to clear the way for the residents to build their homes on three one-acre parcels situated on Sandy Road, off Litchfield Road. Building on substandard lots is allowed by special permit for qualified applicants under a special town zoning bylaw provision intended to assist in creating affordable housing for Island residents.

Abutters George Mellendick, James Williams, William O'Connell, Paul Wales, Robert and Cheryl Finklestein, Frank and Karen Gazarian, Cornelia Dean and Lionel Spiro filed three separate appeals last Wednesday in the Massachusetts Land Court.

Acting through their attorney Ellen Kaplan, the residents claim that the project will adversely affect the neighborhood by increasing the number of houses. The complaints claim that the lots are located in a priority habitat area and cannot be developed without environmental review by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

The complaints also claim that Sandy Road is inadequate to accommodate further development without risk to health and safety of the current residents.

"The decision of the Edgartown zoning board . . . is arbitrary and capricious, exceeds the authority of the board, is based on legally untenable grounds and is not supported by substantial evidence adduced at the hearing," Ms. Kaplan wrote in the complaints.

Ms. Kaplan did not return repeated telephone calls from the Gazette.

Minimum zoning on Chappaquiddick is three acres. The zoning bylaw that allows building by special permit on substandard lots was adopted at the annual town meeting in April of 2001.

The applicants who were awarded special permits are Andrea DelloRusso and Luke Riordan, Joe Spagnuolo and Cheryl Herrick, and Clinton Fisher.

Ms. DelloRusso, a 1995 graduate of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and a manager at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, was awarded first rights to a $240,000 home on Chappaquiddick that will be moved from the Heywood property, purchased by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank. She currently lives in Edgartown with her partner, Luke Riordan.

"Nobody can even give me a guesstimate on when we can start moving the house," Ms. DelloRusso said yesterday. "I don't know if it's going to take two years or more."

Ms. DelloRusso was awarded her lot through the Edgartown housing committee. The house will be sold through the Island Housing Trust, a fledgling affordable housing organization aimed at providing perpetually affordable homes across the Vineyard.

Created last October, the trust was founded on the ground lease model, where land is bought and owned by the trust and leased to a tenant for 99 years at a greatly reduced rate, usually less than $50 a year. The tenant pays a lower-than-market-rate mortgage on the house only. The 99-year lease is renewable, making the land transferable to heirs.

Yesterday Ms. DelloRusso said the court appeal has created an uncertain future for her and her family. She had planned to be in her new home on Chappaquiddick by next summer.

"I'll just keep doing the shuffle because I know I'll eventually be at my new home," she said.

Vowing a vigorous defense, Edgartown town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport said yesterday that he will ask the state land court to consolidate the appeals and to hold a trial on the Vineyard as soon as possible.

"On behalf of the zoning board of appeals, I will be asking the land court to assign these cases for trial at the first available opportunity," Mr. Rappaport said. "Timing is very important to recipients. The town will do all we can to move these forward as rapidly as possible."