The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed out the public hearing Thursday on one of the largest developments it has ever reviewed — the 54-acre Meeting House Place subdivision in Edgartown.
Thursday’s public hearing was the third for the current iteration of the project, which proposes to establish 30 acres as open space and develop the other 20-odd acres with 28 single-family homes, restricted to a maximum of 3,800 square feet, and a cluster of below-market-rate townhouses.
The project first came to the commission in February 2019, but has since gone through several redesigns, as commissioners pushed for a better open space plan and affordable housing contribution.
The 54-acre property was purchased for $6.6 million in June 2017 by developers Douglas K. Anderson and Richard G. Matthews, operating as Meeting House Way LLC. Their listed address is in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The cluster of townhouses would be dedicated to first-time homebuyers and empty nesters, elderly people who have lived on the Island for 15-plus years, but are looking to downsize. The townhouses are not part of the project’s required affordable housing contribution. Instead, the developers are proposing a flat $1.1 million contribution, in addition to a 1 percent fee paid to the Edgartown affordable housing committee on any future sale of the development’s homes. The homes would also be powered by Smartflower, a self-cleaning solar array.
Concerns over the project include potential impact on traffic conditions, Island urbanization, nitrogen loading, and animal habitat loss. The project came close to the chopping block when in September, the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) voted to recommend the full commission deny a previous iteration of the project.
Throughout the multiple public hearings, Island residents, stakeholders, business owners, and biologists have criticized the project, and repeatedly pleaded with the commission to deny it.
On Thursday, Jeffrey Agnoli, an Edgartown resident who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to the project, once again urged commissioners to not allow the development. “Turn this down. If they want to come back with five large-acre properties, all the better,” Agnoli said. “They could be regulated in such a way that they would be far less of an impact.”
While public comments have been mostly critical, the last public hearing saw several people voice support, claiming the project would provide jobs and much-needed housing for Islanders.
In his closing remarks Thursday, attorney Sean Murphy, who is representing the developers, said the project has met and even exceeded the commission’s policies and requirements for developments.
“We understand that people aren’t happy a subdivision is going in,” Murphy said. “This plan provides greater protection to the ponds, it provides far more public benefits to the affordable housing with the townhomes … With us working with the commission, we’ve come up with a plan that started out wasn’t that great, and over time, between the energy and everything we’ve offered, this would be the most sustainable development on Martha’s Vineyard. Nobody has made these offers before, and our clients are willing to do that.”
One of the biggest concerns of the project is its potential negative effects on the Edgartown Great Pond. The project sits in the Edgartown Great Pond watershed. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and septic systems create algal blooms in Island estuaries, killing plant and animal life.
Edgartown Great Pond Foundation executive director Emily Reddington wrote a letter Thursday to respond to Murphy, who has made comments that he has not seen homeowners fronting the pond give up an extra bedroom to address nitrogen concerns.
Reddington wrote that native vegetation and intact landscapes can naturally attenuate nitrogen — depending on housing density. The higher the housing density, the harder it is for nature to handle excess nitrogen. Reddington added that the proposed project has a housing density 10 times greater than the housing density of properties fronting the pond.
“The Island has a critical need for affordable housing, and a limited environmental and physical capacity to meet this need. When reviewing proposed developments, we ask the Commission to consider whether these projects are meeting the most critical needs of our community and are worth the corresponding environmental consequences,” Reddington wrote.
The commission will keep the written record open until July 9 at 5 pm. The project will then head to the LUPC on July 13, and if necessary, a second LUPC session on July 27. The project is slated for a deliberation and decision in front of the full commission on July 30.
Boys and Girls Club DRI begins
The commission also closed a separate public hearing on the Boys and Girls Club subdivision.
The Boys and Girls Club entered into a complicated public-private land deal with the town of Edgartown.
The club reached a purchase and sale agreement with the family of Philip (“Jeff”) Norton in May 2019 for a 21-acre parcel in a wooded area off Edgartown–West Tisbury Road for $2.8 million. The property is sandwiched between Sweetened Water Farm and town-owned land.
The club then approached the town, which was also looking at the property, and struck a deal to benefit the club, the town, and the Norton family. Of the 32 total acres, the club would keep 14.34 acres to construct a new facility, and sell two acres (Lot D) to the parks department and 4.6 acres (Lot B) for additional space for the town’s New Westside Cemetery. A 9.75-acre parcel (Lot C), which abuts Edgartown–West Tisbury Road to the north, will be retained by the Norton family.
At the June 18 annual town election, Edgartown voters approved to spend $650,000 to purchase 4.67 acres of land from the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club, to be used for the town’s new Westside Cemetery. The board of selectmen have now enacted the terms and conditions of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the club. The deal will be paid for through a Proposition 2½ capital exclusion — a temporary tax increase for one year.
The MOU also explicitly states that should the Boys and Girls Club not build its club on the 14 acres, the town has the right of first refusal to purchase the property.
The project in front of the commission was only to subdivide the property into four lots — any construction of a new Boys and Girls Club facility will have to come back to the commission for review.
Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty, who was on the call Thursday, said the deal has been in the works for months. “It had overwhelming support at town meeting, as well as overwhelming support at the town ballot,” Hagerty said.
Edgartown planning board clerk Douglas Finn said he was originally critical of the project, but has since come to support it. “This plan actually improves on what we have now, because the extension of M. Daniels Lane will be a properly constructed road, with pedestrian paths and bicycle markings,” Finn said. “There will be protections for people who access the site by foot or by bicycle, as well as making sure cars are driving in the right place.”
Where to park at recreational marijuana facility
Commissioners continued a public hearing for Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard.
Patient Centric is seeking to operate a recreational marijuana facility. The facility will be co-located with Patient Centric’s West Tisbury medical dispensary at 510 State Road.
On Thursday, Patient Centric CEO Geoff Rose, along with his attorney Phil Silverman, submitted a revised site plan for his facility after listening to concerns from abutters. The chief discussion of the evening was parking.
Part of the proposal would add a six-foot stockade fence along the property line near the Tea Lane Associates area.
Rose’s plan calls for 20 parking spaces, and is expecting five customers on a 15-minute basis. He said there will potentially be five customers in the store, with five more in the waiting area. “There will never be more than 10 customers in that building,” Rose said.
He also removed two employee parking spots, and will institute an employee ridesharing program.
Abutter Abby Rabinovitz voiced her concerns with the project. She said there will be a major increase in traffic to the area. She also said she didn’t understand why such a busy commercial business would be placed on such a small piece of land in that corner of town.
“Why would anyone want a high-traffic recreational marijuana dispensary in the smallest lot in the neighborhood?” Rabinovitz said.
MVC traffic planner Mike Mauro said he still needs to review the revised site plan. The next public hearing will be held on July 9.
Special ways get designation
Commissioners also accepted a designation from the Tisbury planning board that seeks to protect Red Coat Hill Road and Shubael Weeks Road, two paths that date back to the Revolutionary War, as special ways under the MVC’s District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC).
The nomination puts a development moratorium on areas within 20 feet of the roads, but former Tisbury planning board member Dan Seidman has said homes near the road would not be affected by the moratorium because they are all far enough back, and the purpose of designation was to prevent the roads from becoming paved over.
Commissioners voted to accept that the trails conform to the DCPC guidelines. The designation was also approved by Tisbury voters at the annual town meeting.