Affordable Housing Trust Votes To Buy White Street Land As Some Neighbors Raise Concerns

The Nantucket Affordable Housing Trust voted unanimously on Friday to move forward with the $1.2 million acquisition of an undeveloped lot at 8 White Street for year-round affordable housing. 

The 2.8 acre property is being sold by Donald and Alpine Bird under an IRS program known as a “bargain sale”  in which a property is sold to a qualified organization, typically a charity or non-profit, for less than the property’s fair market value in exchange for tax benefits.

The Birds’ daughter, Caroline Ellen Bird, spoke on behalf of the family during the meeting. 

“We felt this was an opportunity to make it available and knowing the crisis in housing on Nantucket, we hope that someone can make us of it year-round, people who are living daily on Nantucket,” Bird said. 

Members of the Trust praised the Bird family for approaching them and making the property available for affordable housing rather than maximizing their potential return. 

“Opportunities like this are rare in a shrinking open land situation on Nantucket” said Brooke Mohr. “Ii want to commend the Bird family for taking the initiative.”

More than a dozen neighbors of the property at 8 White Street joined the Zoom meeting yesterday to weigh in. Some expressed their surprise at the suddenness of the acquisition, as all the negotiations had occurred in closed-door executive sessions and news of the sale was not made public until this week. Others expressed concerns regarding the potential density of development that would happen, along with traffic along the quiet dead-end street in Surfside. Several requested that the Trust take a “pause” before voting on ratifying the purchase and sale agreement. 

“I’m a direct abutter to this property and needless to say, I’m not happy about it,” said Galen Gardner. “How do you spend public money and not tell anyone what you’re spending it on? Why do you meet in executive session and no one knows anything until it’s too late? I know you’re all overjoyed about it, but the neighborhood is in shock. It feels betrayed and shocked and overwhelmed.”

Members of the Trust told the neighbors that Fridays vote was to acquire the property, and there was no development proposal on the table to consider. They committed to working with the neighbors on plans for the property, and creating something that was appropriate for the neighborhood. The hope, they said, was to create homeownership units rather than rental units which have been the focus of other recent initiatives by the Trust. 

“It’s not our intention to blow this lot up,” said Trust member David Iverson. “We’re looking to do the best we can and to not change, or radically change, the neighborhood that exists. That’s not what we do. We’re part of the community. We understand your concerns and it’s been awkward because most of this has happened in executive session.”

Another abutter, Dave Fredericks, asked that the Trust consider the existing density and character of the neighborhood as it weighs how to develop the property. 

“Something that’s important to me is that the underlying zoning has developed the character of the neighborhood,” Fredericks said. “I understand (the) 40B (housing law), so I think you should be very careful to try to align the use with the existing zoning, and fight the urge to go  beyond that.”

Funding for the acquisition will come from funds already approved for affordable housing initiatives in the so-called “Neighborhood First” program, or from the $6.5 million bonding authorization approved within Article 10 of the most recent Town Meeting.
The White Street property is just the latest acquisition by the Trust for affordable housing initiatives. It has utilized the Neighborhood First funds to purchase properties on Orange Street and Fairgrounds Road, as well as the former UMass property off Vesper Lane, over the past two years.
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