Chris Perry Column: The Fight Is Not Over? It Kinda Is

Chris Perry •

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the fight is over.

Despite Tipping Point’s posters on South Shore Road that announce “The Fight Is Not Over,” it kinda is. While there may be a few last gasps left as the final lawsuits and appeals play out, it’s over.

Surfside Crossing on 13 acres of land is coming to South Shore Road. We do not know exactly what the final build out will be until those legal matters play out. But it is no longer a question of if. It’s now a question of when.

So why so much hostility?

Everyone on Nantucket knows we desperately need more affordable housing options.

Everyone on Nantucket knows we are woefully short of the state’s threshold with regards to the Comprehensive Permit Act – commonly known as 40B - and the required amount of affordable housing units that qualify for the town’s subsidized housing inventory.

Everyone on Nantucket wants to see their friends and neighbors qualify and secure affordable, year-round housing.

So, why does it have to be a “fight”?

I am not sure if it is possible to get an unbiased answer to that question. But I do know that the Nantucket community had an opportunity to avoid this battle and all the associated angst and anger that has developed with Surfside Crossing over the last five years.

In 2017, zoning articles dealing with Barbara Malcolm’s 13-acre parcel on South Shore Road were presented to Town Meeting via attorney Arthur Reade. Articles 57 and 58 asked the voters of Nantucket to change the zoning from LUG 2 to I acre. While development would have still been possible, the zoning change would have likely preempted anything close to the potential build out and density of the Surfside Crossing 40B. Additionally, the Finance Committee and the Planning Board gave positive recommendations to both articles at that time. Unfortunately, the voters of Nantucket did not agree and voted both zoning articles down via a majority voice vote.

What does that mean?

It means the vote wasn’t even close.

During the debate at Town Meeting, Linda Williams stood up and warned the crowd: “If we do not vote to adopt these zoning changes, the potential for a 40B to be constructed on this property is extremely high.”

She was right.

Then, with another 40B project on the island (Beach Plum Village) well on its way to completion, the partnership of Jamie Feeley and Josh Posner moved forward on South Shore Road. Surfside Crossing received a project eligibility letter from MassHousing in April of 2018. And with that, the clock started ticking...on two fronts.

For Feeley and Posner, it started the anticipated brawl with various town boards, the Land Council, environmental groups, MEPA, citizen organizations, the ZBA, and other regulatory boards. Everyone wanted to jump into the fray. What a mess.

For those on Nantucket who opposed this development, it started the beginning of the end. Outside of the Town Meeting vote in 2017, it was at this point that those who opposed Surfside Crossing had the most leverage available to them to negotiate a compromise. However, with each passing month, it become painfully obvious that the state was firmly behind this 40B initiative and the Comprehensive Permit Act. And why not? For a community that routinely cries for more affordable housing, why would it try and thwart a project to provide some (25 percent of the total number of units) affordable housing via 40B.? What a mess.

With an initial permit now in hand and a toxic relationship that seems to have developed over time, is there still a glimmer of hope to work something out or have we lost our opportunity to help shape the final design?

I would like to think the glass is half full because as they say, it’s not over till it’s over.

Initially when the Surfside Crossing plans were being formulated for review, discussions did take place to work out a compromise at something less than the current planned build out of 156 condominium units. In fact, it was rumored that an offer of 96 units was on the table and viewed favorably by both sides. However, legal maneuverings started to move through the courts. Additionally, local opposition underestimated the state’s commitment to 40Bs and Posner’s deep pockets. Whatever positive energy that developed between the parties was quickly lost. Instead of seizing the opportunity to work out a compromise, the focus shifted to infrastructure, bats, sewer and water, traffic management, resources; and more recently, the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s permit. While all important topics for discussion, the goal of addressing the lack of affordable housing for the Nantucket community has been lost in the fracas.

Ironically called the “Anti-Snob Zoning Act”, the 40B law and the emotions it creates have steered the discussion in the wrong direction. Instead of working together to address Nantucket’s lack of affordable housing options, it has been replaced with debates over revenue streams and ROI for the developer on one side and affordable housing but “not in my back yard” on the other. Neither side wins in this scenario. In fact, it’s music to an attorney’s ears because we all know who is going to win in the end.

Where do we go from here?

Two things come to mind:

1.) Support efforts to adjust the area median income (A.M.I.) formula that better fits the Nantucket economic landscape. In turn, those parties who desperately need housing and play a valuable, year-round role on Nantucket will qualify easier.

2.) Get back into a room and lock the door with all parties concerned. Everyone eat a little crow and negotiate a public / private partnership that produces reasonable affordable housing solutions at this site. Polarizing the topic and further dividing the Nantucket community inevitably leads to a lengthy, expensive, and messy legal battle even though the outcome appears to be fait accompli.

Nantucket’s affordable housing problem is not going away. Surfside Crossing is not going away and neither is the state’s commitment to the Comprehensive Permit Act. There’s no question that this law allows developers of affordable housing projects to override local zoning bylaws - which seems like an oxymoron to me. Opponents have tried to overturn the law at the state level, going so far as to draft ballot Question 2 in 2010, which would have appealed the 40B law. But it was crushed by almost 20 percent.

Opposition to Surfside Crossing has been vocal, well-funded and media savvy. As the ad says on TV: “Well played State Farm, well played.” But has it helped alleviate the shortage of affordable housing options on Nantucket?

To be successful, opposition needs to finish the drive. They / we need to compromise with Posner and Feeley. That’s a tough pill to swallow especially when we have lost a tremendous amount of leverage. I believe there is a growing segment of people on Nantucket who quietly want to see any form of affordable housing built on the island even if it’s a “Surfside Crossing.” That’s just how desperate they are. Perception is reality and maybe what seems like a moral victory just isn’t helping us solve the problem of a lack of affordable housing on Nantucket.

Before we get to that point - a point of no return - let’s have calmer heads and less rhetoric and remember the words of Ralph Stockman who said: “Be careful that victories do not carry the seeds of future defeats.”

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