Martha’s Vineyard Commission takes up Lagoon Ridge housing development

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.

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.

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.