Denniston building demo permit under MVC review

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Monday began a review of the Island Affordable Housing Fund’s (IAHF) request for a permit to demolish the Denniston house.

At the corner of Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue, the house was the Island’s first African American Church. It was to be refurbished as part of a controversial and now abandoned affordable housing project. The housing fund put the property up for sale after fundraising difficulties halted the development.

The Oak Bluffs Historical Commission, at its December 8 meeting, referred the matter to the MVC. While the MVC is researching its role and authority in the unusual application, the regional planning agency has the authority to prevent the owner from tearing down the building.

Also at the December 8 meeting, the historical commission declared the Denniston house “preferably preserved.” Under the town’s bylaws, that designation prevents demolition for six months, while interested parties determine whether the building can be restored, and how it might be funded.

“Now they’ve ruled it historically significant, but there’s no money to preserve it,” Ewell Hopkins, executive director of the housing fund, said this week. Mr. Hopkins said the value of the property cannot be established until potential buyers know whether the building can be demolished. He believes the property would sell quickly if the issue were resolved, allowing the housing fund to shed its monthly mortgage payment of approximately $6,000.

“Our financial situation is not forcing the issue,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We are able to continue in this mode if we had to. But it’s not responsible to use contributions for a property that has no plan going forward.”

Mr. Hopkins said negotiations are underway with the mortgage holder to modify the terms of the loan.

The fund bought the property in 2007 for $905,000.