Navigator Homes passed another milestone after the Edgartown planning board unanimously approved the project on Tuesday. It now awaits state approval.
Navigator Homes plans to open its doors in the summer of 2025 and plans to begin construction in late summer 2023, according to Navigator Homes president and CEO David McDonough.
The project, set to be built at 490 Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, is planned to have 66 beds for senior residents and 48 workforce housing units for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Navigator Homes staff. Navigator Homes is designed to be the replacement property for the aging Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Oak Bluffs. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved plans for Navigator last November.
Recently, Navigator Homes announced it will be working with Boston-based Hebrew SeniorLife to manage the facility.
Before continuing the public hearing, the board took time to ask questions or comment on the project. Board member Scott Morgan wanted to know the current capacity of Windemere, which Navigator Homes project consultant Edward Olivier said the current license allowed for 61 beds but only operated with 30 beds for the last year because of a lack of staff. This aspect is expected to improve with the project’s workforce housing. McDonough said a 94 percent occupancy rate is anticipated. When Morgan asked whether a reduction to the facility’s footprint was considered, McDonough said they do not have plans to decrease the size of the facility since the current plans barely meet half of the skilled nursing needs on Martha’s Vineyard.
“I’m just trying to find ways to make this acceptable or palatable for that area, for the neighbors,” Morgan said, pointing out that although the town voted to look at the option, it will be a sizable development in a residential neighborhood. “Nobody has said this isn’t needed. It is needed. That’s absolutely needed. It’s gonna have a huge impact on the Island. But, it’s easy to support the concept of it and what you’re doing, and it’s even easier to support it when it’s not going in right next to your house.”
Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard released a survey study in 2021 that showed that a third of the Island’s residents are 65 years or older, a population that is expected to grow in the future.
Meanwhile, board member Glenn Searle said he did not like how the project was presented to the board. “[There were] two meetings with generators on our lap that we knew nothing about,” he said. “I only think the neighbors knew about the generators going in. I hope that the hospital and their crew can work nice with the neighbors.”
Searle also said his vote hinged on whether Navigator Homes would connect to the town’s sewer system. Olivier said connecting Navigator Homes with the town sewer is the preferred option and is being considered.
When board chair Lucy Morrison asked whether there will be restrictions on how much rent can be charged, Olivier said, “Legally I’m not sure. Morally, yes,” adding that this is being worked on with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.
Olivier presented the Navigator Homes closing summary, which went over how the project team addressed planning concerns. These included increasing the distance between the project’s buildings and neighboring homes, plans to work with the Vineyard Transit Authority for more bus service, and adjusting generator sizes, among others. Olivier also went over “recurring themes” that board members brought up during meetings, such as keeping units affordable and traffic concerns, alongside what steps the team has taken to advance the project, such as board of health approval on septic plans.
Some conditions were placed on the project plan by the board, including management of the facility (e.g. plantings, generator sounds, submission of landscaping plans, and more) and requiring the workforce housing units to be for year-round hospital and Navigator Homes staff. One condition that the board put forward was for Navigator Homes to be connected with the town’s sewer system, although exactly how fast this can be implemented remains to be seen. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter saying there will be a need for a comprehensive wastewater management plan, particularly relating to possible impacts to Edgartown Great Pond. However, considering the other boards and committees that would be looking at this issue, the planning board decided not to add the sewer connection condition. The board will work on the language of the conditions and consider them on March 7.
Although there were some lingering concerns, the project had the support of board members.
“At the end of the day, especially tonight, all of my questions and objections have been answered,” Morgan said. “Do I think this is the right place for this? Not necessarily. Is there another place for this? Who knows.”
Alternate board member James Cisek said this was a “long process” that both the board and applicants worked diligently to make a project that can serve the community. “The betterments far outweigh the detriments,” he said.
Board member Michael McCourt said Navigator Homes fills a need for Island families.
“Some of the testimonies … that we had through this and our hearings have been very eye-opening,” board member Michael McCourt said. “Families have had some tough times dealing with their parents and having them go off-Island and being isolated on their own and not able to see them. That’s the part that really hits home with me. That’s really tough.”
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital issued a press release about the planning board’s approval.
“We appreciate the rigorous vetting process this proposal underwent and that ultimately led the Edgartown planning board to join both the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Edgartown board of health to support this desperately needed project,” Martha’s Vineyard Hospital president Denise Schepici said in a press release, thanking the planning board for their approval.
The release also revealed the staffing challenges the hospital is experiencing, which the workforce housing can address. Both the hospital and Windemere have 219 vacant positions, some of which are filled by travel staff. The release states that the lower cost of living off-Island makes it “impossible” for the hospital and nursing home to compete for full-time employees.