A proposed affordable housing complex in Oak Bluffs, on about eight wooded acres of town-owned land just east of the YMCA ice arena on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, has drawn strong opposition from nearby residents and a number of objections from members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

“There [are] some very difficult issues here, there’s no doubt about it,” hearing officer Doug Sederholm said Thursday night, at the close of the MVC’s virtual public hearing, continued from Jan. 9, on the 45 to 48-apartment Southern Tier application as a development of regional impact (DRI). The written record remains open until 5 p.m. Jan. 30.

Southern Tier is being developed by Island Housing Trust and Affirmative Investments, whose Meshacket Commons affordable neighborhood in Edgartown received DRI approval from the commission in November.

Some homeowners on Gamba Road, east of the Southern Tier parcel, oppose the current proposal based on the town’s plan for a future access road leading past their properties to a second phase of the affordable development. That phase could include a proposed 12 to 15 more apartments on a 24-acre connecting parcel that Oak Bluffs is obtaining from the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank in a property swap.

Rending of development.

“This access road, which as I understand it, is intended to accommodate housing that could reach as many as 200 units, would create significant, significant traffic immediately behind our homes,” said Gamba Road homeowner LaShann DeArcy Hall. A 2020 feasibility study indicated that with a new wastewater plant, up to 260 apartments could be built on the town’s land in what is known as the Southern Woodlands.

But Oak Bluffs has not asked for hundreds of dwellings in its Southern Woodlands housing development, said Craig Nicholson of Affirmative Investments, and is instead seeking to maintain a sense of Island character.

“It’s really important for us to manage our growth [and] do it in a smart way, to where we’re not just putting up big buildings and filling them up with people,” Mr. Nicholson said.

As proposed, Southern Tier is a near-twin to Meshacket Commons, with a series of three to six-unit apartment buildings, a central common green and a community center offering free wi-fi, covered bicycle parking and an indoors gathering place for Southern Tier residents.

“Our goal with this design was essentially to create a sense of community,” Mr. Nicholson said, describing a neighborhood where residents from different units and buildings would interact with one another in common areas. More than half of the apartments are intended for families, he said, with two to three bedrooms in each. Rentals will be restricted to tenants earning from 30 per cent to 110 per cent of the area media income.

The Southern Tier proposal also preserves nearly two acres of open space, including part of a small knoll or rise, in a roughly arrowhead-shaped area on the northeastern end of the 7.8-acre lot.

Commissioner Trip Barnes argued that there could be even more natural habitat if the apartments were consolidated, without a community center or common green.

“We should be looking at an apartment building or two, set out of the way,” Mr. Barnes said. “Line ’em up in a row and put some trees and bushes and put up parking... and you’ve got affordable housing.”

Commissioner Jeff Agnoli also looked askance at the campus-like design, describing both Southern Tier and Meshacket Commons as “sprawl.”

“These are aesthetically pleasing, but it’s at the expense of the abutters and of priority habitat, including areas like this that are among the last of the undeveloped areas in a very developed part of the Island,” Mr. Agnoli said, calling for the MVC to encourage more density in future developments.

Commissioner Ben Robinson assailed the plan for rooftop solar energy at Southern Tier, saying the east-west orientation of some of the buildings would require a wasteful use of excess solar panels to generate sufficient energy.

Commissioner Linda Sibley repeatedly questioned why the future access road, which is not part of the current application, couldn’t be placed on the development’s western side, where it would abut the ice arena and parking lot.

Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi said the reason was due to habitat preservation. Mr. Jordi sadi that the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP; Natural Heritage), which holds regulatory power over development in habitat areas, had identified the knoll for preservation and wants to see contiguous, rather than piecemeal, open space around it.

“For that reason we moved the development to the west, and we use the knoll to essentially buffer and protect the neighbors to the east,” Mr. Jordi said. “The community center is tucked into the knoll and facing west, away from the neighbors to the east.”

Redesigning the current project now, in order to relocate the proposed future access road, would require the drawn-out NHESP process to begin again from scratch, Mr. Jordi said.

“It’s highly unlikely Natural Heritage is going to allow us to do that anyway, [but] any major changes between the plan and what Natural Heritage has agreed to would delay the project significantly,” he said.

Relocating the paper road would likely rule out the town’s planned second phase of affordable housing, and could risk both projects, Mr. Nicholson added.

The developers are racing the clock to secure grant funding from the commonwealth and begin work on Southern Tier before construction costs escalate further, Mr. Nicholson said, in an appeal for timely action that met with some skeptical responses.

“These time constraints seem to me to be the result of the timetable the applicant is creating,” Ms. Hall said.

“I share the frustration. We’re hearing a fait accompli,” said commissioner Peter Wharton.

“I feel a little boxed in,” said commissioner Kathy Newman. “It just feels to me like we should keep talking.”

But the need for housing is urgent, said Mr. Jordi, who told the commission that when Island Housing Trust recently posted openings for 20 apartments, five times that number of applications poured in.

“People can’t afford to buy housing and there’s no rental housing available, so timing is an important consideration,” Mr. Jordi said.

After the written record closes Jan. 30, the MVC will deliberate on the Southern Tier application in February, after Mr. Nicholson meets with the commission’s land use planning committee to iron out some of the concerns raised during the public hearing this month.

Documents and plans are posted on the mvcommission.org website.