A public hearing at Thursday’s Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting, regarding the proposed Navigator Homes development, pitted hospital and nursing facility reps — citing urgency to alleviate the effects of the housing crisis on its staff — against disgruntled abutters taking issue with the project’s size.
Through collaboration among the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Navigator Homes, and Healthy Aging MV, the development’s initiative cites plans to house 76 nursing facility and hospital staff in addition to the 66 senior residents at its Edgartown location. The project calls for a total building footprint of 55,000 square feet on its 26 currently undeveloped acres.
The project is able to be taken up as a result of a new amendment to the Edgartown zoning bylaw authorizing the construction of a senior residential development, contingent upon meeting a small number of requirements.
Per the Edgartown bylaw, requirements for a senior residential development are that it must be located on two or more acres, with at least 100 feet of frontage on a public way, in addition to having public water or wastewater service availability.
Representing the hospital, attorney Geoghan Coogan noted that each requirement has been met or is in the process of being met, as the development will be located on over 26 acres, and situated 1,300 feet from the public road.
Coogan said the project will not be tied into the town sewer as initially proposed, because of the development’s projected nitrogen output far exceeding the town’s load limit.
Instead, the project is slated to consist of on-site “highly advanced” denitrifying septic systems to reduce nitrogen output, in order to prevent seepage into the Sengekontacket Pond watershed, in which the property sits.
Coogan emphasized the need to move forward with the project, citing the urgency of housing needs, especially for the prospective residents of the development.
With no existing nursing facility on the Island capable of effectively catering to the community, and senior residents now making up a third of the Island’s population — exceeding off-Island ratios — securing care is crucial, reps explained, hence the need for onsite healthcare providers, who need housing provided in order to retain continuity of care.
Coogan said the project is not only a proposal for desired workforce housing and a necessity for the development, but legally required under the senior residential development article in the town’s bylaws.
On who can legally be provided living arrangements within the development, Coogan stated, “It has to be in employees of the hospital or Navigator [Homes].” If units are available, he said, housing can be provided to public safety staff.
“This is not an Airbnb situation, it never could be,” he said. “These are not private rentals. This is workforce housing and elderly services.”
”This project does not have 18 years to wait,” he said, adding that opponents to the project, particularly regarding the plan’s workforce housing component, have “their head is in the sand, if you see what’s going on on this Island right now … this [project] doesn’t even dent the housing needs of the hospital.”
Denise Schepici, president and CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, highlighted the urgency of housing the hospital’s staff. The hospital is “in the midst of a major housing crisis,” she said, “one that has been mission-critical to the future of our hospital.”
Rodianna Pope, speaking on behalf of her husband Devon, who was not present, testified as both legal representative and grandchild of abutting Teaberry Lane homeowners asserting opposition to the project.
Pope said the development will “affect the solitude that all of the Teaberry [Lane] residents have had since the cul de sac was built.” Pope said she feels “alternative options were not adequately explored.”
In addition to raising concerns of increased traffic congestion in the area, Pope said the project will “alter a large amount of residents’ expectations of peace and quiet in their backyards.”
Pope said that if the project were to be approved, they hope that any resulting “collateral damage” is thoroughly considered, and that due to the Island’s “specific vulnerabilities” regarding climate change, “such a major construction project should only be done if absolutely needed.”
Abutter Patricia Turken said she is “directly affected by this [project],” expressing concerns about the close proximity to the site. Although Turken stated that the development proposed is “within 100 feet” of her residence, Coogan noted Turken’s property sits 243.7 feet from the closest planned structure.
Noting the environmental impact, Turken said, “Edgartown simply does not have the infrastructure right now to support the density of this. That’s a fact … we know this.”
Turken suggested having the construction be scaled back in size. “It’s just too big,” she said, citing impacts to wildlife habitat. Turken said maybe it can “push[ed] toward the back of the lot,” to create more of a “buffer” between the development and other area residents. Ultimately, she said on the project, “our family is opposed.”
Founder and member of both Navigator Homes and Healthy Aging MV Paddy Moore testified about the nearly 10-year process of forming what she deemed “a product of the best approach to developing in new directions.”
“I think the Island, and all of us, are at a turning point in looking at ourselves and what kind of life this Island hopes to have as a community,” she said.
Preserving the Island’s flora and fauna are undoubtedly very important, said Moore, “but we need to look in a different way; that involves acceptance of some changing issues.” Part of that, she said, is really “considering what kind of future we need.”
The public hearing will continue Sept. 1.
In other business, a lawsuit filed by attorney Dylan Sanders claiming the commission had violated the Open Meeting Law in regard to its out-of-court settlement with Harbor View Hotel was addressed by MVC chair Joan Malkin.
The complaint by Sanders, filed at Dukes County Superior Court on July 20, on behalf of some of the hotel’s abutters, argued that the commission violated the Open Meeting Law when voting to accept the settlement with the hotel at a July 7 executive session.
The complaint stated that commissioners did not follow the proper procedures when entering into the executive session, in addition to the session itself exceeding the scope of what can be determined without public input.
At the MVC’s Thursday meeting, Malkin deemed the litigation “practically over,” stating that the court ruled in favor of the commission, denying the plaintiffs’ motion to have a new public hearing. Additionally, Malkin explained, it was determined that the MVC did not exceed the scope of its authority while in executive session, and was not in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
Updated to clarify town’s bylaw regarding wastewater