The West Tisbury select board and the town’s affordable housing committee are still grappling with a recent dust-up that saw a contractor withdraw from a proposed affordable housing project in the town.

The two sides met on Monday in an attempt to smooth over a dispute that has seen Island building company South Mountain Company withdraw from a proposed affordable housing project at 401 State Road following frustrations with the committee.

On Monday, select board chairman Cynthia Mitchell reiterated the great work that the housing committee has completed in the past, but expressed concern regarding the situation with 401 State Road.

“We have some problems, and we need to face them openly,” she said.

The issue dates back to September, when John Abrams, CEO of South Mountain Company, wrote a letter notifying the town that the company was dropping out of the project, citing the housing committee’s unwillingness “to engage with [South Mountain] in a civil and collaborative process.”

The select board awarded a bid for the work in August to the nonprofit Island Housing Trust, which subsequently contracted with South Mountain Company as the project designer.

In September, the town select board met with the affordable housing committee to try to sort out the issues and find a path forward for the project. Mr. Abrams attended the meeting but did not make a commitment to re-engage in the development.

At Monday’s meeting, West Tisbury town administrator Jen Rand gave her perspective on the issue, describing the housing committee meetings she had attended as “stunningly uncomfortable” and “chaotic at best.” She criticized committee member Ted Jochsberger’s belief that Mr. Abrams’s letter was sent to “sow discord” – an attitude, she said, which impeded their making progress. She also hoped for openness going forward, and disagreed with committee chair Michael Colaneri’s proposal for a small meeting without posted minutes.

Mr. Colaneri, who has voiced opposition to the South Mountain project proposal, was not in attendance Monday.

Housing committee member Larry Schubert said he felt the dispute originated in part from the affordable housing committee micromanaging the project, and suggested that the committee meet in-person with South Mountain to review the plans.

“We were starting to play small ball with the details,” he said.

Other board members agreed with Mr. Schubert’s explanation and suggestion.  

In a statement at the joint meeting Monday, Mr. Abrams appeared open to continuing work with the town, but did not officially re-commit to the project.

“Let’s get it started,” he said, “It’s going to take a long time.” 

The 401 State Road project was approved after significant debate at the annual town meeting in May of 2021, during which residents voiced a desire to keep the roadside area near the project wooded. In his September letter, Mr. Abrams said he submitted a proposal that heeded those concerns, but delays ensued when members of the affordable housing committee felt the proposal didn’t adequately address the abutters’ wishes.

The meeting ended with the housing committee agreeing to meet with Island Housing Trust at a later date.