High-Density Affordable Housing Plan Proposed for North Tisbury Property

By IAN FEIN

A plan to build 94 condominium units on 46 acres off Old Stage Road in North Tisbury quietly surfaced at a meeting of the West Tisbury selectmen last week. The plan is one of the larger formal development proposals in the history of the Vineyard.

The $42 million project was filed as a plan late last month by a New Bedford developer under Chapter 40B, a state law that allows affordable housing developments to skirt most local zoning regulations. As required by the law, the proposal would designate two dozen units as affordable housing.

If it goes forward, the project is expected to be referred to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI).

Selectmen refused to comment on the plan at their regular meeting this week, though they are currently working behind the scenes with commission staff and other town boards to draft a response to the proposal. According to Chapter 40B guidelines, the selectmen have until Jan. 2 to submit their comments to the state.

Project developer Paul E. Cusson of Delphic Associates of New Bedford said this week that he expected some opposition to the density of the project.

"I'm sure that people are going to be upset, amazed, shocked - whatever word you want to use - about our proposed density," Mr. Cusson said. "But we have spent an exceptional amount of time over the last year and half working on this project, and we feel strongly that our proposal is appropriate for this site."

The 46-acre property is made up of three lots located behind John Keene Excavation. The site, known as Huseby Mountain Farm, is owned by Florence Olsen of Centerville. It has an existing three-bedroom home but is mostly open meadows and is currently used by some Vineyard residents as a casual three-hole golf course.

Delphic Associates has a purchase and sale agreement with Ms. Olsen, and holds an option to buy the 46 acres for $6 million. West Tisbury assessors valued the property this year at $2.2 million.

According to the Chapter 40B application, the company stands to make roughly $6.4 million in profit from the development.

Mr. Cusson said he was looking for a potential Chapter 40B development site on Martha's Vineyard for the last five years, and settled on this property because it worked economically for his company. He said that he has spent many summers on the Island, renting a cottage in Oak Bluffs, and that he was well aware of the dire need for affordable housing.

"Even though I'm a real estate developer, I'm an advocate for affordable housing," Mr. Cusson said. "My whole career has been dedicated to creating affordable housing."

The West Tisbury proposal would also restrict three dozen units for residents over the age of 55. "There are a lot of residents who are 60, 70, 80 years old and are being taxed out of their homes," Mr. Cusson said.

The company has dubbed the West Tisbury development Villas of Glen View. Each of the proposed units would be a two-bedroom, two-story condominium with a garage and additional parking space. The units would be arranged mostly in duplexes and triplexes. The development would also include a seven-acre recreational area with tennis courts and a practice space for golf putting and chipping.

Delphic Associates is a development company that specializes in Chapter 40B, commonly known as anti-snob zoning. Mr. Cusson described himself as an expert in the field, and said the company is currently involved in more than 30 such projects across the commonwealth.

According to the Chapter 40B process, after the selectmen submit their comments, the state will determine whether the site is suitable for the proposed development. If the state issues a site eligibility letter, the developer can apply for a comprehensive permit from the town zoning board of appeals. The zoning board will then have 30 days to open a public hearing on the project.

Once the project reaches that stage, it is expected that the West Tisbury zoning board will immediately refer the proposal to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, because the project would trigger a number of criteria on the commission's DRI checklist.

Mr. Cusson, however, said this week that he believes there is still some question whether the commission has jurisdiction over Chapter 40B developments.

The issue has been well aired in court - with the Massachusetts Land Court twice upholding the commission's unique powers to review such proposals. But Mr. Cusson said that the previous case failed to include the state housing agency that he believes should have also ruled on the question.

"It certainly raises an issue - a cloud - over whether 40B will override the Martha's Vineyard Commission," he said. "But our goal is to get a shovel in the ground as soon as possible, while maintaining a decent relationship with all the town officials and abutters. I'm not interested in lawyers making a lot of money."