Developer Sam Dunn’s proposal to build a bowling alley in Oak Bluffs cleared a major hurdle last week. The town planning board voted unanimously to approve the year-round entertainment center, to be built on Uncas Avenue, in a crumbling building where a long vacant laundromat currently stands.
The proposed design calls for a bar, a restaurant, a game room, an event room and two apartments that qualify as affordable housing. It now moves to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI) by the powerful regional permitting agency.
Mr. Dunn made numerous changes to the plan since his last meeting before the town planning board. The most significant change, however, was made to address the concerns of three residential abutters, who expressed strong opposition to, among other things, the location of the parking lot, contending it would cause excessive noise in the neighborhood.
“The main change was that we flipped the entire project,” Mr. Dunn said. “This makes the parking closer to Circuit Avenue and moves it away from the residential area on Uncas.” Mr. Dunn said the change required reducing the total number of bowling lanes from 12 to 10. The overall size of the proposed entertainment center has been reduced from 15,000 square feet to 13,500 square feet.
This was Mr. Dunn’s second appearance before the planning board. At the first meeting, the board requested that Mr. Dunn add additional parking to accommodate the event room. Zoning regulations require one parking space for each four restaurant seats. The proposed entertainment center has 62 seats (18 at the bar) plus 48 at the bowling lanes (four per lane). Although the overall total of 110 seats requires 28 parking spaces, Mr. Dunn’s amended plan provides 32 parking spaces, four more than the minimum required, not including two employee parking spots. He also said that if a curb were added at the bowling alley property line on Uncas Ave., there could be parallel parking on both sides of the street, creating an additional 20 spaces that currently do not exist.
Mr. Dunn said he has had positive response from the highway department about the added street parking, which would be limited to two hours. He will meet next week with the roads and byways committee for final approval.
“This has more parking than any business I’ve ever seen in the B-1 district,” board member Brian Packish said. Chairman John Bradford agreed, adding, “Given the proximity to the downtown, I think a lot of the people won’t be using cars to get there.” Board member Kris Chvatal noted that Mr. Dunn had also complied with the planning board request to provide a bicycle rack.
To address sewage concerns, Mr. Dunn has switched from composting toilets to a de-nitrification septic system. “It costs more money but we found that it’s probably better all around to have a de-nitrification system in a septic system. It reduces nitrates by 75 percent,” he said, noting that a similar, smaller system at Woodland Center in Vineyard Haven, another one of his developments, has worked well. In addition to Woodland Center, Mr. Dunn has also developed the Tisbury Marketplace, which houses the state-of-the-art movie theater run by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.
The most strenuous opposition came from attorney Ellen Kaplan, who was representing Diane Streett, a seasonal resident from Delaware who owns a house on Hiawatha Ave. Ms. Kaplan said the proposed development would be a source of drunken debauchery, and said Mr. Dunn was being disingenuous by using a bowling alley as a cover for opening a bar, noting that he had not reduced the size of the bar from his previous plans.
Mr. Bradford also read two letters from abutting seasonal residents into the record, both expressing concerns about alcohol-induced misbehavior.
“It’s not in our interest to run a bar scene here,” Mr. Dunn said. “We have voluntarily agreed to limit the bar hours. Massachusetts law allows you to have last call at 1 am, we’ve agreed to 10:30 pm weeknights and 11:30 pm on weekends.”
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to our town,” said board member Erik Albert.
“This project has met or exceeded all of our expectations,” said Mr. Packish. “Every residential district has to stop and start somewhere. Considering the eyesores that are there now, this is a giant improvement.”
There was one condition on the unanimous board vote — a honey locust tree must be planted every 20 feet along the property line that abuts the residential district. Mr. Dunn agreed to comply.
Mr. Dunn, a grandfather in his 70s, said the bowling alley will be designed to have multi-generational appeal. “We want this to be a family entertainment center,” he said. “We envision people of all ages using this place. We envision kids having their birthday parties there, and we envision families going to bowl there.”
“There’s a not-in-my-backyard thing and I understand that,” said Mr. Dunn after the meeting, regarding opposition to the project. “But I think we made a significant gesture to the residents. Of all the projects I’ve done, I’ve never had so much enthusiasm.”
Mr. Dunn hopes to break ground this spring, and to complete construction in eight months. “It’s a steel building, it goes up very fast. In this case that’s just the underpinnings of it, you won’t be able to recognize it as a steel building when it’s done.”
Mr. Dunn plans to make the exterior consistent with “old” Oak Bluffs, and to display the work of local photographers along with historical photographs on the exterior, which will be changed from time to time.
Mr. Dunn will have his first formal session with the MVC on February 6.
Pending MVC approval, he will then go before the Oak Bluffs selectmen to apply for a liquor license.