Contractors set to begin site work for Schifter house move

Capt.Bob Gilkes

The political, regulatory, and natural influences on the complex plan to move a 5,500-square-foot seasonal house and adjacent buildings from the rapidly eroding coastal bank at Wasque Point on the southeast corner of Chappaquiddick continued to evolve this week.

In an unusual Monday session, the Edgartown conservation commission met and approved preliminary site work for the massive engineering project that will be used to move the Schifter family’s seasonal Chappaquiddick house to an adjoining lot and away from the lapping sea, now only 82 feet away.

The planning board also approved the preliminary site work at a meeting Tuesday. The engineers want to be prepared to move as quickly as possible once the regulatory process is concluded.

The evolving plan calls for contractors to move a house from the adjacent Leland property, bought by Richard Schifter to make room for the relocation of his threatened shorefront guesthouse, garage, and main house.

The conservation commission and the planning board authorized excavation five feet deep and 15 feet out from the guesthouse foundation, and agreed to let contractors separate the guesthouse from the foundation.

The action came as yet another ocean storm assaulted the shoreline from the southeast on Tuesday. According to engineers working on the project, the guesthouse is now 40 feet from the edge of the bank.

The boards also approved plans to remove some trees and shrubs that will be stored off the site, and allowed some vegetation and trees to be cut to begin preparatory work for moving the adjacent Leland house to make way for the Schifter house.

The conservation commission did not approve moving the guesthouse. However, the planning board approved moving the house to a temporary location farther away from the bluff.

The conservation commission and the planning board are waiting for more information about the impact of the move on the fragile sand cliff, and the probability that the buildings may be vulnerable to erosion even after the move, before voting on the entire plan.

No move on MVC

Also this week, town officials took no action in response to a memo dated March 13, addressed to the Edgartown conservation commission, planning board, and building inspector, in which Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London said two changes in the original 1990 Leland subdivision plan subject the Schifter plan to MVC review.

The subdivision of the acreage known as the Leland property, which Mr. Schifter bought earlier this year to be his house’s final destination, was the target of a 1990 MVC review, which resulted in the lot being declared a Development of Regional Impact (DRI).

Edgartown building inspector Lenny Jason, also the town zoning officer and a longtime MVC member, disagrees. On Tuesday, Mr. Jason advised the Edgartown planning board not to refer the project to the MVC. The planning board, by consensus, agreed.

“I think they are in compliance with the terms of the district of regional impact (DRI),” Mr. Jason said Wednesday. The conservation commission has not yet discussed whether to make a referral.

When he was asked in a telephone conversation Wednesday what would happen if town boards decide not to refer the project, Mr. London said, “I am not going to speculate on hypotheticals. I assume that the town, the applicant, and that everybody wants to make sure that it is all done in the appropriate way, and that sooner or later it will be.”

Any town board from any town or the Dukes County commissioners may refer the project, Mr. London said.

Revised plans

Since the last storm, contractors have repaired a wall of coir envelopes, large mesh tubes filled with biodegradable plant fiber, placed to help mitigate erosion in front of the Schifter property. The wall of coir envelopes collapsed about eight feet during the last storm, as ocean waves battered the base of the coastal bank.

The unusual Monday conservation commission session was a continuation of a March 13 meeting, where engineers and contractors explained modifications to their original project.

Engineers plan to dig a trench 250 feet wide to move the main house, with the basement and foundation intact, to its new location.

Contractors had planned to truck excavation material off site, then truck it back to fill the excavation after the buildings have been moved. That would have required approximately 2,000 round-trips with large dump trucks along Chappy’s roads.

The plan now is to store most of the excavation spoils on site. That would reduce the number of truck trips needed for the excavation to fewer than 600, according to the contractors.

At the March 13 meeting, engineer George Sourati presented the plan to the conservation commission and pleaded for a decision so contractors could begin preparation work on the site. He told the board that after significant erosion during the latest storm, the coastal bank is now 20 feet away from the pool enclosure, and 82 feet away from the main house.

“We’re in a position where we need to move as soon as possible,” Mr. Sourati said. “I would like to be able to go ahead with the project today.”

Conservation commission members were divided on whether to act on approving the application to move the buildings that night, or wait and consider the latest changes to the project.

“I don’t think there’s any way we’re not going to approve this project,” commissioner Christina Brown said. “But we need to pin down some things.”

The Edgartown planning board approved moving the Leland house, and approved a lot line change at an earlier meeting.