Hearings on 23-lot housing project imminent

Last large tract of subdividable land in Oak Bluffs to be town’s first flex development.

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On Feb. 8 the Oak Bluffs planning board will hold the first of two public hearings on Lagoon Ridge, a 23-lot subdivision off Barnes Road at Double Ox Road. The project would be the first in Oak Bluffs to utilize the town’s flexible-development zoning bylaw, which allows for cluster development in exchange for the preservation of natural resources and the town’s “traditional New England landscape.”

Last Thursday morning, members of the planning board joined developer Davio Danielson, attorney Eric Peters, Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner, Lagoon Pond Association president Doug Reece, and a group of concerned neighbors on a site visit of the 32.5-acre wooded tract.

“This has been under discussion since 2010,” Danielson said onsite. “We’re finally getting close to the end. So there’s been a huge amount of input, from which this project has been greatly improved.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has approved the project, yet homeowners whose property borders the development still have qualms, and lots of questions that haven’t been answered to their satisfaction.

In a telephone interview after the site visit, planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins said many different aspects of the development will be explored during the hearing process. Among the subjects destined to be deliberated on at the hearings, he said, are the layout and management of conserved land and fire road location and upkeep.

Hopkins said he supports abutters exercising their rights of contention, but pointed out that he’s encountered several folks, not all necessarily abutters, who harbor the misconception that the project has received some sort of variance or special dispensation. To the contrary, he said, the project falls squarely within the parameters of the flex-development bylaw, which differs from standard subdivision guidelines. While stressing his neutrality, Hopkins noted that unlike an adjacent subdivision that was executed in a traditional manner that included large, clearcut lots and fairly homogeneous homes, the proposal for the developer of Lagoon Ridge has made an effort to provide varied home and lot sizes and acres of conserved forest, as well as public recreational access.

One abutting homeowner who has taken issue with the development is Alan Robillard, who lives on Oak Wood Lane. In a telephone interview with The Times, Robillard said the development’s septic plant is one of many elements of the project that he has reservations about. Subdivision plans call for an Amphidrome system — a type of proprietary sewage plant. Such a system has never been used on Martha’s Vineyard, and should it fail, the environmental consequences would be severe, Robillard said. He said he worries that even a functioning system will further burden Lagoon Pond with nitrogen. The system depends on grinder pumps that his research has concluded are prone to breakdown, he said.

According to Ed Quann, president of Amphidrome’s maker, F.R. Mahony and Associates, there are a few household-size Amphidrome systems on the Vineyard, but Lagoon Ridge would be the first on-Island system of plant scale. He told The Times a system that processes a large volume of effluent is in operation at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Quann said the Amphidrome system uses enhanced septic tanks that feed an engineered sand filter layered with bacteria. Once the wastewater filters into the sand, hungry bacteria eventually nix the nitrates by changing them to CO2 and nitrogen gas, he said.

The system at Lagoon Pond can be monitored and controlled remotely, Quann said. Concerning grinder pumps, he said the development’s plans, as he understands them, call for failure alarms to be installed. As far as access to the system designer, Quann noted Amphidrome systems are made nearby in Rockland: “It’s developed and manufactured right here in Massachusetts.”

Danielson told The Times septic management will have an onsite component too, and re-emphasized the remote controllability of the system.

“The shared nitrogen-reducing system,” wrote Danielson in an email, “will have an on-Island person under contract to respond quickly if needed, but these are typically self-operating. The Amphidrome systems can be adjusted remotely by F.R. Mahony as needed. There will be frequent effluent testing at the beginning to be sure it is working as expected, but they have a solid long-term record of safe and consistent operation.”

Hopkins pointed out that the Oak Bluffs board of health has reviewed and approved the system for the development. That may offer slim solace to Robillard, who fears what will happen in the aftermath of any type of major system failure. A septic bond the planning board has stipulated for the development could take a lot of time and wrangling, should a payout be necessary to fix or replace the system, he said. Robillard said he wonders what would happen should there be a second major failure, as nothing appears to be in place to compel the purchase of a follow-up bond.