In response to a proposed 34-lot Edgartown subdivision, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted Thursday to add more teeth to its affordable housing contribution policy for future developments of regional impact (DRI’s).
The former policy - in place since 1998 - gives any applicant for a DRI involving the creation of ten or more lots by subdivision the option of providing ten per cent of the buildable lots, or 20 per cent of the assessed value of the property, to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. In other words, applicants had the option of giving land, or money, as part of their affordable housing contribution.

Commissioner Fred Hancock, who has spearheaded the initiative to change the policy, said that giving applicants this option often left affordable housing proponents short-changed.

“We currently let the applicant decide what their [affordable housing] contribution will be,” said commissioner Fred Hancock at the meeting Thursday night. “And in many cases, we haven’t gotten good value for that.”

The amended policy now leaves that decision - whether to provide land or money - up to the discretion of the commission. It also changes the monetary contribution option for applicants. Rather than owing 20 per cent of the assessed value of the property, they will now owe 100 percent of the post-permit appraised value of the buildable lots that would otherwise go to affordable housing.

According to Mr. Hancock, need for this change became most apparent last year when a 34-lot subdivision off of Meeting House Way in Edgartown applied for DRI approval. Even though developers bought the land for $6.6 million, it was only assessed at $2.4 million, meaning the affordable housing contribution came out to less than $500,000. At a commission meeting in November, commissioner James Joyce estimated that each of the 34 lots in the subdivision could sell for $600,000 or more.

Now, with the new policy, the commission can force a DRI applicant to provide buildable lots rather than give a monetary contribution. In the case of the Meeting House Way subdivision, that would have resulted in three lots for affordable housing; or, if the commission had opted for the monetary option, the post-permit appraised value of those three lots.

The policy cannot be applied retroactively and will not affect the Meeting House Way subdivision.

“We’re looking toward the future,” Mr. Hancock said. 

Although this change has served as a quick fix to the commission’s affordable housing policy, Mr. Hancock also said that he is looking at a way to offer a “lots-and-money” option for applicants that would hypothetically allow a 15-lot applicant to split their contribution between one buildable lot and half the appraised value of a buildable lot.

In other business, the commission speedily approved an expansion to the Clarion Inn on Main street in Edgartown. The Clarion is converting the former Shiretown Meats building into four new hotel rooms.

According to commissioner Richard Toole, who attended the Land Use Planning Committee meeting on the conversion, the project won’t result in a change in traffic flow on the busy thoroughfare.

“Edgartown has got it under control,” Mr. Toole said. 

The project will go before the Edgartown planning board for a public hearing on Jan. 29.

The commission also voted to change its DRI fee schedule for the first time since 2002, raising fees for DRI’s by 30 per cent.

DRI coordinator Paul Foley said he used the 40 per cent increase in the consumer price index since 2002 as the measuring stick for the increase in fees. 

“Some people thought raising by the consumer price index was too much, so the proposal is to add 30 per cent to base fees,” Mr. Foley said, “which is technically less than what we charged in 2002.”

Commissioners approved the fee raise while voting down a clause that would have charged DRI applicants for using more than four hours of commission staff time. They also added a $100 fee for non-compliance infractions.

The commission also unanimously passed a $1,627,352 budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The budget reflects a 5.1 per cent increase from 2019, and an approximately 2.8 per cent increase in town assessments. 

MVC executive director  Adam Turner said the budget increase was driven by a rise in medical insurance premiums, pension accounts, and the mortgage on his workforce housing unit.

“It’s all good with me,” said commission treasurer Ernie Thomas.