Two neighboring landowners this week began the permitting process to build 61 houses in a new development called Lagoon Ridge, off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. They plan to develop a total of 68 acres under the town’s new flexible development zoning bylaw.
That bylaw permits a more densely planned development than conventional zoning would allow, in exchange for preserving open space and the use of other design factors the town wants to encourage.
Davio Danielson and Oraibi Voumard, whose families own the two wooded parcels, met for preliminary discussions with the Oak Bluffs planning board on May 13.
“It’s an exciting plan,” chairman John Bradford said, after seeing the preliminary outlines. “You’re our guinea pig. This is a relatively new bylaw. For our first flexible development, you’ve put a lot of thought into it.”
The initial plans call for at least eight homes for people over the age of 55, and at least nine homes for low- and moderate-income families.
“We’re looking at smaller units, not McMansion summer homes,” Mr. Voumard said. “We want to work with the people of the Island.”
Mr. Danielson and Mr. Voumard say they want direction from regulatory boards before seeking the permits they will need to build the project.
“This is about nine percent of the developable land left in Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Voumard told the planning board. “We have to make some decisions. I would like to walk out with an understanding of what the zoning could be.”
“We’re here because we can’t pay the taxes any more,” Mr. Danielson told the planning board. “We need to make some money, after keeping it open for many years.”
In a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Voumard said he is happy with the reception he got at the planning board and with the reaction of other town officials involved in the permitting process.
“In general, if you work with people, work with the town, try to figure out what their needs are, and bring that into your plan, it’s going to be favorable,” Mr. Voumard said. “The trick is how to make that work for you.”
The flexible development bylaw, adopted by Oak Bluffs voters in 2003, allows the planning board to issue a special permit that relaxes conventional requirements for lot size, density, frontage, setbacks, and roads, if the developer meets conditions for affordable housing, elderly housing, and open space.
The bylaw defines the “basic maximum number” of houses allowed as the number the developer could build under conventional zoning laws. It awards bonuses up to 40 percent above the basic maximum number.
For example, the bylaw says, “For every two dwelling units restricted to occupancy by a person over the age of 55, one dwelling unit may be added as a density bonus.”
Mr. Voumard cautions that the number of units could change as the permitting and design process progresses. According to his preliminary calculations, there could be 44 houses under conventional zoning laws, without a special permit. They will ask for a special permit to allow an additional 17 houses.
“Our mission is to create a cluster of 61 homes on around 27 percent of the 68-acres of land we own,” the families said in a statement. “If our plan is accepted, over 70 percent of the acreage will be protected from any future development. Similar to other cluster developments, we are hoping to offer a co-housing development option that will offer possible tenants of the land opportunities to participate in the design and build process of the community. By pre-selling a few lots, keeping the footprints small, and road construction limited to only a portion of the property, we expect to be able to reduce development costs considerably, which is how we will make these homes more affordable.”
The bylaw allows up to five houses in one common building, and developers say they want to explore that option for some of the houses.
“By creating true mixed-use clusters of housing, there will not be a low-income section and an elderly section, but rather a healthy mix of incomes and ages sharing the space,” the statement said.
The developers acknowledged they face several regulatory hurdles before work can begin. Among them is the issue of wastewater treatment. The part of the property that fronts Barnes Road is less than 500 feet from Lagoon Pond, which is already threatened by nitrogen loading from septic systems within its watershed.
Mr. Voumard and Mr. Danielson have met informally with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff. Next month, they expect their project to be formally referred to the commission for review by the regional planning agency.
Davio Danielson lives in Plainfield, in northwestern Massachusetts, where he is chairman of that town’s board of health. He serves on the Hampshire Council of Governments, the regional board that replaced Hampshire County government. Mr. Danielson and his wife manage a bed and breakfast facility in the Berkshire Mountains. He helped design and develop Tower Ridge, a community that borders the planned Lagoon Ridge development.
Mr. Voumard, is a resident of West Tisbury, where he lives in co-housing. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard three years ago, to begin working on the Lagoon Ridge project, after working in sustainable community development at other sites.
“This is a personal project,” Mr. Voumard said. “It’s my family’s land. They want to find a way to have a real impact. That’s right up my alley.”