Navigator Homes, the skilled nursing facility slated for Edgartown, cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the town’s board of health voted to approve revisions to the project’s wastewater plans.
The project will replace the current Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the only nursing home on Martha’s Vineyard, owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. The project was defined as a Green House model, “which seeks to redefine residential care and give elders the privacy they deserve, as well as the support they rely on.”
Though Navigator Homes received its approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last year, and both the state and the Edgartown planning board a few months later, concerns of the large project’s nitrogen footprint remained at the forefront of many discussions.
Earlier this year, Navigator Homes — which will consist of 70 skilled nursing beds in five buildings, and 48 workforce housing units in two apartment buildings, a townhouse, and four duplexes — had withdrawn its application with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a 9,900-gallon septic tank, and instead looked to the local board of health for approval of five smaller, Title 5 systems.
This week, Navigator Homes president and CEO David McDonough asked the Edgartown board of health to amend its December 2022 approval of the septic plans by striking a condition placed on said approval that calls for Mass DEP to have to sign off on a 9,900-gallon tank.
Switching to the smaller tanks would mean Navigator Homes wouldn’t need DEP approval, project counsel Matthew Watsky told the board: “The 2,000-gallon tanks have already been approved by the DEP for this technology.”
Board of health member Candace Nichols briefly expressed concern with the request. “This is the first time I’ve heard of us being asked to strike language in [a] past permit,” she said, adding that the change to the plans could be seen as trying to “circumvent the DEP.”
McDonough highlighted that the project simply wouldn’t be able to continue without the approval of a revised permit. Instead, he said, it was decided that Navigator would use previously approved standard technology that requires only local approval. “There’s nothing nefarious about it,” he said.
The existing permit approval “is predicated on us using a 9,900-gallon tank, which will require DEP approval, which could occur in days or weeks or months,” he said, adding that the state department has not yet reviewed or responded to septic pilot plans submitted by Navigator Homes more than four months ago.
“We cannot wait for DEP to come up with a response if it’s going to take another four months,” he said.
A $53 million loan with a 3.5 percent blended interest rate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the construction of Navigator Homes is conditioned upon the receipt of a building permit, which is further conditioned upon the approval of a septic permit, McDonough explained.
He added that the construction lender is asking that Navigator Homes close on a price from a general contractor within the next few weeks; even the lowest bids are indicating increased costs upwards of $6 million.
“This is a very, very hot construction market,” he said. “Prices are going up … This project will die if we have to wait two to four weeks or longer for DEP approval.”
“We have, on one hand, $58 million to build this project, and we have a cost of $58 million,” McDonough said. “Should we not be closing within the next two to four weeks, and should we have to go to the marketplace to get a construction loan at 9 percent, this project is dead in the water.”
The board of health ultimately voted to approve the requested permit revision along with the five smaller septic systems in a 2-1 vote, with Nichols as the sole opposer.
Following the vote, McDonough thanked board members: “On behalf of the seniors of Martha’s Vineyard, I want to give my heartfelt appreciation for this vote. We’ve been working on this for three years. This was the last vote, and now we can proceed to closing and save the deal for the seniors.”
“Tuesday’s vote by the board of health brings us a step closer to the Navigator Green House project becoming a reality, and to addressing a pressing need for the Island’s growing elder population,” McDonough later said in a statement to The Times. “It will provide skilled nursing care for seniors that may well become a model for the entire commonwealth.”