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Lagoon Ridge

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Lagoon Ridge developer Davio Danielson answered a question about nitrogen mitigation at the Martha's Vineyard Commission meeting on July 17. — Photo by Nathaniel Horwitz

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) began its formal review Thursday of a proposal by Davio Danielson to develop a large lot off Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs. Mr. Danielson, who owns the property with his five children, plans to build up to 25 dwelling units, sited in three different “clusters” on the 32.5-acre parcel.

Commercial fisherman Bill Alwardt, a member of the Oak Bluffs shellfish committee, argued that Lagoon Pond is already dying and cannot sustain additional development without sewering.
Commercial fisherman Bill Alwardt, a member of the Oak Bluffs shellfish committee, argued that Lagoon Pond is already dying and cannot sustain additional development without sewering.

Following a 90-minute public hearing on July 17 as a development of regional impact, the MVC asked Mr. Danielson to return with more details about reducing nitrogen runoff and ensuring that part of the development will be affordable.

The presentation included testimony from town boards and the public and questions from the commissioners. Mr. Danielson is scheduled to return to the MVC on September 4.

In 2009, a team of developers including Mr. Danielson unveiled a plan for “Lagoon Ridge,” a 60-unit subdivision on 70 acres. The MVC informally reviewed the plan, but the development partnership dissolved before the formal review process began.

The development has returned to the MVC much reduced in size and scope. The revised Lagoon Ridge development is roughly half the size of the original plan. As described, Cluster A is divided into four large lots, each with a home of up to four bedrooms. Cluster B will have a home on each of  four standard lots, each with up to three bedrooms. Cluster C will have 15 small lots with up to 17 dwelling units, including two duplexes and six to eight units designated for buyers over 55 years old. One lot may become a community house with space for group activities and extra rooms for visiting family. Cluster C, intended to be affordable housing, is considered “Phase 2” and will be financed by sales of clusters A and B.

“We want to make homes that are accessible to the over 55 folks who are downsizing as well as homes that are affordable to working men and women who service the community, like tradesmen, teachers, and police and firefighters,” Mr. Danielson said in earlier comments.

“The MVC is really concerned about year-round housing,” he added. “These homes are built to be inhabited 12 months of the year, and they’re well insulated so owners don’t pay too much for heat.”

The MVC determined that traffic impact was negligible and that sight lines would not be infringed. However, it had concerns about the nitrogen that 25 more dwellings would add to the Lagoon and how Mr. Danielson would make cluster C affordable for the intended residents, year-round workers.

Developer Davio Danielson was asked to return to the Martha's Vineyard Commission in September with more information.
Developer Davio Danielson was asked to return to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in September with more information.

Nitrogen mitigation

“We’re basically here breaking even,” said MVC member John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs following Mr. Danielson’s presentation on nitrogen mitigation. “The policy guidelines give up to 110kg each year and you’re coming in at 106kg. The Lagoon’s failed, we’re not winning the war if we’re breaking even.”

Mr. Breckenridge pushed for all three of the clusters to operate on a single treatment plant. The current proposal had two clusters on a treatment plant and the third operating on individual systems.

“Perhaps there’s more additional cost for a package plan,” said Mr. Breckenridge. “But there’s a cost-benefit ratio in our view instead of individual systems, with a treatment plan you preserve more open space on each of the lots. I’d like to see nitrogen calculations with the three clusters on one system.”

Bob Fitzgerald, a civil engineer working with Mr. Danielson, said that he was happy to look into the engineering of a single system but explained Mr. Danielson’s proposal. “Why Davio was interested in doing it the way we’ve presented, with the large 1.5-acre stand-alone lots, that helps to finance this project and get things rolling,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “You don’t have to have a full treatment plant in to sell those original eight lots.”

Mr. Breckenridge was not satisfied. “Nitrogen is the big elephant in the room and we’re not sure if this will be addressed properly,” he said. “A system that removes 50 percent makes me yawn: 90 percent gets me excited.”

Mr. Danielson stressed his connection to the Lagoon. “I learned to drive on the Vineyard, I grew up on the pond, my family makes their living fishing, I’m not going to screw up the pond, so we’re going to make this happen,” he said. “If you send us over to the town, we’re really ready.”

Oak Bluffs shellfish committee member William “Bill” Alwardt passionately objected to any more development without sewering. “A hundred feet off the beach, everything’s dead,” he said. “It’s a dead zone and it’s all coming from nitrates, and we aren’t removing them. We used to fish that area. I measure the health of the pond by the fishery. Now there isn’t one.”

He demanded sewering. “Nine hundred houses on the O.B. side needed sewering five years ago, and not one has been sewered,” he said.

Affordable housing

“One of the big selling points of your proposal is the affordability of the cluster C lots,” said MVC member Doug Sederholm. “What are you going to do to assure us that they’re really going to be affordable?”

Mr. Danielson said the project was not at that point. “Once I know what my infrastructure costs are going to be, that we’re going to clear here, I can really begin to hone in on that,” he said.

MVC member Josh Goldstein of Tisbury raised a similar concern. “Affordable lots are tempting not just to people who happen to live here but also to speculators, investors, renters and people who don’t live here,” he said. “When you come back, if you’re going to try and get us to like your project more because it’s going to serve year-rounders, how is it going to demonstrably serve that population as opposed to a population of people who are also looking for cheap, well-built homes at a good rate?”

Mr. Danielson said that he would investigate further and return with more information, but he stressed his commitment to affordability and year-round residents. “My middle daughter has tried living here,” he said. “Her husband worked at the hospital, she had a good job, and they couldn’t make it. The Island’s average weekly wage is 71 percent of the state average, median home price is 54 percent above the state’s, and the median rent exceeds the state’s by 17 percent.”

He also emphasized his belief that it was a good development. “What this is going to offer is beautiful virgin woods with pretty, flat lots and a lot of contour where you could put up a house and live if you’re part of the working stiff community down here,” he said. “There’s a mix of elderly, year-round, affordable in that central cluster, and that’s going to be paid for by people who want the amenity of privacy and a larger lot up on the top that would be in keeping with the neighbors. We’re surrounded by other developments. If we’re going to have more housing, this is the place for it to be.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the MVC approved the Lagoon Ridge plan. The plan received informal review but the partnership dissolved before the start of the formal review process.

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The Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed 17 unit Oak Bluffs subdivision.

Proposed site of Lagoon Ridge development. — Google Maps

In 2009, a team of developers unveiled a grand plan for Lagoon Ridge, a 60 unit subdivision on 70 acres in Oak Bluffs. The plan survived review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI) but the partnership did not.

On Monday night, the development returned to the MVC land use planning committee (LUPC) much reduced in size and scope. A public hearing before the full commission is set for July 17.

Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury chaired the meeting, which was attended by four other commissioners. Fred Hancock was the only Oak Bluffs commissioner present.

The proposed Lagoon Ridge development is roughly half the size of the originally planned Lagoon Ridge.  Davio Danielson, owner of the property with his five children, intends to build up to 25 dwelling units, sited in three different “clusters” on the 32.5 acre parcel.

Cluster A is divided into four large lots with four homes of up to four bedrooms. Cluster B will contain four homes on four standard lots, each with up to three bedrooms. Cluster C will have 15 small lots with up to 17 dwelling units, including two duplexes and six to eight units designated for buyers over 55 years old. One lot may become a community house with space for group activities and extra rooms for visiting family.  Cluster C is considered “Phase 2” and will be financed by sales of clusters A and B.

“We want to make homes that are accessible to the over 55 folks who are downsizing as well as homes that are affordable to working men and women who service the community like tradesmen, teachers, and police and firefighters,” Mr. Danielson said in an interview with the Times. “The MVC is really concerned about year-round housing. These homes are built to be inhabited 12 months of the year, and they’re well insulated so owners don’t pay too much for heat.

Subdivision divided
Planning for the original 70-acre version of Lagoon Ridge began in 2009 when Mr. Danielson and the Proskauer family, owners of an abutting 37.5 acre parcel, began initial negotiations. The permitting procedure began in May 2011 and 60 dwelling unitswere eventually approvedby the Oak Bluffs Planning Board and referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review as a DRI.

In late 2012, the co-venture between the two families fell apart.

“It’s hard enough for one crazy family to get things set up,” Mr. Danielson joked. “They stopped dealing, they walked away. I was spending money hand over fist for both of us and they stopped answering emails and phone calls. It was a shock. God knows real estate ventures are always fraught, so one shouldn’t be too surprised when something like this falls apart. It was almost too good to be true.”

New site plans of a scaled down Lagoon Ridge with 25 dwelling units were presented to the Oak Bluffs Oak Bluffs Planning Board in July 2013 and were approved under the town’s flexible zoning bylaw that was approved by voters in 2003. The bylaw permits more densely planned development than conventional zoning allows in exchange for preserving open space and creating affordable housing and elderly housing.

The bylaw requires that 10 percent of the units are affordable to families earning less that 50 percent of median income or 15 percent for families earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of median income.

Long negotiations with MassWildlife over rare moth habitat recently ended in agreement to a “two-thirds take” meaning that less than 11 acres can be developed or disturbed in any way.

Mr. Danielson has developed family land before, also with an eye on conservation. “My mother and I and my cousin Emmett Carroll did Tower Ridge in the 1980s, and we were very proud of that. Seventeen acres were kept in buffer zone as natural land, which we felt was better than most of the other developments that had been done at that time.”

Mr. Danielson said he would like to have a builder in place by the end of the year. “We’re planning to vet some contractors that we know that can do “green” work, Mr. Danielson said. “We’d love to have builders with LEEDS-certified or HERS-value homes get in touch with us. This is going to be jobs for the Island and places for working men and women to live.”