Oak Bluffs Planning Board allows subdivision development to move forward

The building permit issued in 2004 for The Preserve at the Woodlands was deemed valid with conditions.

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Approximate area of the Southern Woodlands subdivision. – Courtesy of Google Maps

After a month of wrangling and under the threat of litigation, the Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) agreed with the buyers and sellers of the Preserve at the Woodlands on amendments to the special permit issued in 2004 that will allow the project to move forward. In a unanimous 5-0 vote Thursday, the planning board agreed the special permit for the 26-lot subdivision remained valid, albeit under new conditions imposed by the board.

In earlier meetings, the two sides reached agreements about increases in open space and adjustments to special ways. The major sticking points, affordable housing allocation and nitrogen mitigation, were the focus of Thursday night’s public hearing and vote.

Disagreement over the validity of the permit surfaced between stakeholders and the planning board almost immediately after Paul Adamson, a Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner, purchased the property for $5.15 million at a June 26 auction from National Land Partners, a subsidiary of Patten Companies. The subdivision is the remnant of the never-completed Down Island Golf Club and figured large in the deal under which the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchased the majority of the property, now known as the Southern Woodlands.

As he had at last Thursday’s planning board meeting, Geoghan Coogan, attorney for the buyer, Boston-area developer and Edgartown seasonal homeowner Paul Adamson, presented the board with a set of draft proposed amendments to the 2004 permit.  Mr. Coogan said the sellers, NLP Finance, and his clients, had combined to make a final offer of a $700,000 payment to the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Trust (OBAHT).  That was a substantial increase over the initial offer of $240,000 and the most recent offer of $650,000 made last week.

At the Tuesday night meeting of the selectmen, representatives of the OBAHT and Oak Bluffs selectmen made a formal recommendation that the planning board hold out for $880,000, the amount the town can require per the “Flexible Development” by-law.

Thursday night, Mr. Coogan made it clear to the board that $700,000 was as high as his clients were willing to go. The planning board members agreed that the stakeholders had bargained in good faith and deemed the amount sufficient.

Nitrogen mitigation continued to be a difficult number to pin down but in the end, the two sides agreed to a specific number, no more than 19 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of wastewater. Selectman Gail Barmakian, who also serves as a wastewater commissioner and is co-chairman of the Lagoon Pond Watershed Committee, had requested the OBPB require a reduction of 75 to 90 percent.

Mr. Coogan reminded the OBPB that the town has no stated by-law for nitrogen mitigation and this his clients had already bargained in good faith by reducing the total number of bedrooms from 190 to 156 and agreeing to addition nitrogen reduction measures that would require “enhanced septic systems or other technology.”

“We’re doing something that doesn’t technically have to happen,” he said. “We’re going above and beyond because we’ve heard the town’s concerns.”

Mr. Coogan also told the board that two of the stakeholders owned houses on the Island and were vested in the environmental health of the Island.

“We don’t have standards or bylaws [for nitrogen mitigation] and I’m not as confident in voiding the permit on that level,” OBPB chairman Brian Packish said. “I feel confident they’re prepared to do what needs to be done.”

He also noted that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which must approve the modifications, and the town board of health will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.