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Housing, rentals, sea-level rise discussed as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard meet

Nantucket Town Manager Libby Gibson, center, gives opening remarks at a meeting Oct. 18 between town officials from Nantucket and the communities of Martha's Vineyard.
Jennette Barnes
Nantucket Town Manager Libby Gibson, center, gives opening remarks at a meeting Oct. 18 between town officials from Nantucket and the communities of Martha's Vineyard.

Housing, short-term rentals, and sea-level rise drew most of the attention at a special meeting last night of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard officials.

They discussed ways to create housing that people can afford — an increasing challenge on islands prized as vacation destinations where the median home price is more than $1 million.

Brooke Mohr, a member of the Nantucket Select Board, said the community has dedicated nearly $70 million toward its housing goals in the last few years, but Nantucket plans to continue working with other communities to push for a home-rule petition or other state legislation that would allow the town to impose a real estate transfer fee on high-value transactions.

“So we're moving hard on it, but, you know, it's chasing us,” she said. “Housing prices are going up. It’s getting ahead of us. It's costing more, and the need is growing.”

Several bills that would have allowed Nantucket and other communities to impose a so-called “mansion tax” failed to pass the Legislature this session.

On Nantucket, the fee would have applied to sales over $2 million, with revenue dedicated to community housing initiatives.

James Malkin, who chairs the Housing Bank Review Committee on Martha’s Vineyard, said that based on comments from the public and the committee’s initial discussions, many Vineyard residents want to do better at creating housing for people who already live on the island — but not build more units or add population.

He said one strategy would be to provide more multifamily housing in existing buildings. But the cost of property makes that difficult.

“Both islands, in my opinion — it’s a phrase I used recently — we're drowning under the weight of money,” he said. “And the issue is to take housing and make it available for the people who are here.”

On the issue of sea-level rise due to climate change, Warren Doty, a member of the Chilmark Select Board, said he has questions about how to deal with rising waters in the harbors, especially because many of the buildings are businesses, including gas stations.

“On Martha's Vineyard, we have really four major harbors, and each one is going to be very much affected by a one-foot or two-foot sea-level rise,” he said. “I don't know if we have any coordinated plan to deal with that.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission published a climate action plan, called “The Vineyard Way,” in June.

Last night, Nantucket’s coastal resilience coordinator, Vincent Murphy, said the town has a coastal resilience plan, focusing on coastal flooding and erosion, which was completed last year. He said the town is considering writing a climate action plan as well.

Nantucket Select Board member Matt Fee said the first step in coastal retreat is to stop marching forward — meaning to stop building in areas at risk of flooding.

Town managers from some of the island communities said they cooperate regularly and will continue to do so.

At least five Martha’s Vineyard towns — Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury — were represented at the online meeting, along with Nantucket. No one from Aquinnah spoke up during the initial roll call. It was unclear if any Aquinnah officials joined later.

More than 90 people logged onto the public Zoom meeting.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.