Public hearing on Meetinghouse subdivision continues

Proposes net-zero nitrogen loading, and bike path.

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The 54-acre, 34-lot Meetinghouse Way subdivision in Edgartown went before the commission for its second public hearing Thursday night. — Brian Dowd

More than two months after the first public hearing, the 54-acre, 34-lot Edgartown subdivision between Meetinghouse Way and Meshacket Road returned to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for another round of public input and project updates.

The project proposes to create 34 lots, broken into three housing clusters, ranging in size from 1 to 2.68 acres. The proposed houses have several restrictions, such as limiting the square footage to 5,000 square feet of living space, which includes a garage with a bedroom on top and a 900-square-foot “unconditioned space for gathering” limit, according to the commission staff report. A portion of the property will be deed-restricted through a conservation and management permit for imperial moth habitat, which is along 16.72 acres of the eastern and southern edges of the property.

Concerns over the project — one of the largest the commission has reviewed — include potential impact on traffic conditions, Island urbanization, nitrogen loading, and animal habitat loss. Developer Douglas Anderson, attorney Sean Murphy, and agent Doug Hoehn came back to the commission and shared project updates.

Chief among the updates were several commitments to have a net-zero nitrogen project. Murphy said the project wants to go even further and have the development actually reduce nitrogen loading in the area to improve the water quality of the pond through a combination of hooking up to town sewer, limiting lawn fertilizer, and installing a permeable reactive barrier (PRB). PRBs are underground barriers made of wood chips and oil that attract and catch nitrogen molecules.

The property sits in the Edgartown Great Pond watershed. Too much nitrogen from fertilizers and septic systems can be extremely harmful to Island estuaries by creating algal blooms, which can kill plant and animal life.

The net-zero nitrogen commitment is a significant increase in reduction from the project’s previous commitment. The MVC’s nitrogen load limit is 1.40 kg per acre per year, or 76.08 kg per year for the property. Pio Lombardo, a nitrogen management consultant, previously told commissioners he believed the project could be brought down to 25 to 48 percent of the commission’s limit, but now says it will not only bring that loading to zero, but will also improve the area’s water quality.

The project also proposes to hook up wastewater free of charge to Edgartown’s planned affordable housing development, which abuts the Meetinghouse Way project.

Murphy also addressed northern long-eared bat populations, quoting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and saying the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) determined the property was not home to a bat habitat.

“Reports from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [say] that creating habitats for the northern long-eared bat can potentially increase the spread of white-nose syndrome because they’ll all be in the same area, so this is not habitat for them. You shouldn’t create habitat for them, they should go wherever they go,” Murphy said of the white-nose syndrome, a disease caused by a fungus that has killed millions of bats across the country.

Luanne Johnson, a wildlife biologist and director of BiodiversityWorks, said Murphy took the Fish and Wildlife service reports out of context and misrepresented information to the commission. Northern long-eared bats get white-nose syndrome during hibernation in caves and mines. The NHESP report says designating cave and mine hibernation habitats of bats could be harmful because people could travel to them and could contribute to the spread of the disease unknowingly, because the fungus can last a long time on clothing, shoes, and outdoor gear. Johnson pointed out there are no caves or mines on the Island, or on the Meetinghouse property.

“In other words, it has nothing to do with this project,” chairman Douglas Sederholm said, referring to Murphy’s use of the report.

“Exactly,” Johnson said. “It was just taken out of context because they don’t understand this species.”

The project proposes to have 34 acres, or 63 percent of the total property, designated as open space between the three housing clusters. Morning Glory Farm owner Jim Athearn said calling it open space was a bit of a stretch.

“I think it’s obvious the so-called open space is really just people’s backyard, and kind of makes a joke of the open space policy, and the word cluster is about as far from cluster as you can get. It’s really suburban sprawl,” Athearn said.

MVC executive director Adam Turner asked if Anderson had thought about downsizing the size of the homes to four bedrooms instead of five, and clustering the homes even more, to create a meaningful open space.

Anderson said he had looked at different ways to cluster the homes, but arrived at the three-cluster-model after completing a market survey with Island Realtors to determine sale value of the lots.

In addition to the 1 percent transaction fee — paid by the seller — on any future sale of a lot to go to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority or whichever group the MVC decides, Anderson proposed another 0.5 percent fee to go to a homeowners association to maintain the neighborhood.

Commissioner Ben Robinson took issue with how the homes would be built without disturbing the open space.

“Most concerning is the renderings don’t really allow for the room even to construct the project. It becomes really sort of evident that’s a really tight development,” Robinson said. “The reality is you can’t even get construction vehicles around the side of the house for construction.”

Anderson said the designs were looked at carefully.“It is workable,” Anderson said.

Each home built will adhere to strict covenants, which Anderson is finalizing before presenting to the commission, that establish size and design of homes. Anderson has also proposed a new bike path easement along Meshacket Road, and space for a possible bus stop.

While only three members of the public spoke, commissioner Richard Toole, who led the hearing, decided to continue the public hearing to May 16.

In other business, the commission approved projects for the Yard and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

Turner shared some kind words for DRI coordinator Paul Foley, who left the MVC after 15 years to work in Fairhaven as the director of planning and community development. “Paul also had an incredible knowledge of history and buildings,” Turner said. “To have one person be as effective in all the things that he was asked to do, I think, was really unique and special.”