Unbiased hearing on subdivision promised

Oak Bluffs planning board to consider special permit for Lagoon Ridge on Thursday.

Eric L. Peters, attorney for Davio Danielson and head of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF), points to spots on a Lagoon Ridge subdivision plan during the recent walk through.

The Lagoon Ridge subdivision is set to be explored during a public hearing on Thursday at 5 pm on the lower level of Oak Bluffs Town Hall. Several abutters have expressed deep reservations about the development, particularly its complex septic plant, called an Amphidrome system.

Oak Bluffs planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins told The Times in a telephone interview that everybody who wishes to give input on that system, and the special flex development permit being sought for Lagoon Ridge, will have fair opportunity to do so at the hearing.

The meeting will follow the order of testimony common to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), he said. At the start of the meeting the applicant will be given the opportunity to present the Lagoon Ridge subdivision.

In a later interview, Eric Peters, attorney for developer Davio Danielson, said he and Danielson will make the presentation, but he would not preclude the contribution of other parties.

After the presentation, local boards will be permitted to weigh in. Thereafter, elected officials will be given the floor to speak in favor, then against. Last, the public will be allowed to voice approval of the project, then disapproval of the project. After any critical commentary on the subdivision, the applicant will be allowed to offer rebuttal.

Given concerns raised by opponents of the development, Hopkins emphasized that the objectivity of the planning board remains intact. The board has gone to great lengths to provide a transparent process, he said. “What we want people to understand is, we’re not walking in with a preconceived notion,” he said.

“We have not deliberated, and do not know each other’s opinions,” Hopkins said. Verbal opinions he and his fellow board members may have received out and about in Oak Bluffs do not factor into the decision, he said. What the board will weigh is the written testimony and documentation received by the planning board, law, and the testimony at the hearing. If need be, another hearing will be held on Feb. 15, he said. That second night will be held “if the board as a whole needs additional public testimony to make an informed decision.”

In other words, he said, if he found the board wasn’t ready to make a motion for a vote, an additional hearing would be justified.

A key to a well-rounded hearing Thursday, Hopkins said, will be testimony from the board of health. He pointed out that he formally requested board members, not just the health agent, attend the hearing to discuss decisions they’ve made relative to the subdivision.

Should the planning board vote to approve the Lagoon Ridge special permit, the last remaining steps in the development that Hopkins said he could foresee were permits from the building department. Should it be denied, there is a two-year wait to reapply. However, he pointed out that the applicant has other options should the permit not be granted.

“I’m just looking for public input — see how the neighbors feel,” planning board member Mark Crossland said.

The Amphidrome system came to his mind when asked what he felt might generate the most discussion at the hearing. “The septic treatment plant will probably be the biggest thing, I would guess,” he said.

Peters told The Times that unlike surrounding subdivisions approved in the 1980s, Lagoon Ridge will be much better at conserving land. The Amphidrome system is an important component of that conservation, he said, because it will not require the clear-cutting of trees to make way for large leaching fields.

“We want to finish presenting what we have to present, and to explain it to the board, and to respond to concerns raised by the public,” Peters said.

Lagoon Pond Association president Doug Reece, who plans to attend on Thursday, told The Times in a text message that planning board approval is not what he hopes to see at the hearing.

“My hope is that the planning board will decide to either postpone or deny the special permit,” he wrote. He wrote Lagoon Pond is “overloaded with nitrogen” and that the proposed Amphidrome sewage treatment system for the Lagoon Ridge subdivision doesn’t reduce the amount of nitrogen it’s claimed to reduce. Therefore the system stands to harm the pond.

Reached by telephone, developer Davio Danielson described the Amphidrome system as “excellent…very long lasting and extremely reliable.” It will reduce nitrogen below 13 milligrams per liter as the Martha’s Vineyard Commission expects, he said.