MVC blesses Oak Bluffs bowling alley development

MVC blesses Oak Bluffs bowling alley development

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Developer Sam Dunn listened as commissioners praised his project. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

In a unanimous 9-0 vote on March 6, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) approved, with conditions, the new bowling alley/entertainment center to be built on Uncas Avenue in Oak Bluffs by developer Sam Dunn.

“I think this is a model project for a lot of reasons,” said commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs. “This project can, in a lot of ways, set the tone for the town of Oak Bluffs. It’s good for the town, and it’s good for our economy as a whole.”

“I think this project is going to be good for the Island,” said commissioner Christina Brown of Edgartown. “I think our back and forth has been all for the good. Thank you, Mr. Dunn.”

“I’m very pleased with the decision,” Mr. Dunn said after the vote. “It validates the soundness of this project.”

Since the public hearings began on February 6, the MVC discussed possible conditions for approval that have included hours of operation, parking, affordable housing, additional de-nitrification, noise and light mitigation, and landscaping. The project was unanimously recommended, with conditions, to the full commission at Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) meeting on March 3.

As currently designed, the 13,500-square-foot project on Uncas Avenue will have 10 bowling lanes, a bar, a restaurant, two golf simulators, a game room, an event room, and two apartments that would qualify as affordable housing. Mr. Dunn estimates the cost of construction at $2.5 million.

Prickly proceedings

Since the first of two packed hearings on February 6, emotions have run high. Abutting homeowners opposed to the project were the vocal majority at the February 6 hearing, while advocates for the project were in full cry at the February 20 hearing.

The controversy surrounding the project escalated after the February 20 hearing, when MVTV microphones picked up commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, making an off-the-cuff remark as the commission recessed just after Mr. Dunn’s hearing. Once aware of the kerfuffle caused by Ms. Sibley’s aside, MVTV took the hearing off its website and edited her comment out, which further inflamed the debate. A clip containing her comment was posted on Youtube by a Times reader. To date it has had nearly 1,200 views.

In a subsequent interview with the Times, Ms. Sibley steadfastly maintained she was joking and felt certain that Mr. Dunn would have taken it that way. Mr. Dunn was nonplussed, writing in an email to the Times, “I doubt she meant anything by it because I have always found her to be fair and objective.”

Benefits vs. Detriments

Before the final vote, as is custom, MVC Chairman Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs went down the MVC checklist of benefits and detriments of the project.

- Wastewater and stormwater disposal — both benefits. After reviewing the proposed FAST denitrification system, Sheri Caseau, MVC water planner concluded “It [nitrogen level] stays well within the thresholds of the commission’s water quality policy.”

- Providing open space — benefit. Open space is not required in the B1 district, but it is provided in the developer’s plan. “The building height and overall size are considerably less than zoning allows,” Mr. Breckenridge said.

- Lighting — benefit. The project requires little exterior lighting.

- Energy consumption — benefit. The structure meets Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code which provides for energy efficient alternatives.

- Traffic — benefit. In response to abutter concerns, the MVC retained C3 Consulting Group to prepare a second Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA), beyond the study already done by the commission. The second study concluded, “The intersections of Circuit Avenue and Uncas Avenue as well as Pocasset Avenue and Uncas Avenue will operate at acceptable levels of service.” Regarding the much-debated topic of parking, the study concluded, “Parking supply satisfies the expected parking demand.” Mr. Dunn has planned 32 parking spaces, four more parking spaces than the required minimum, according to the town zoning requirement. He also agreed to purchase year round MVTA passes for employees who agreed not to drive to work.

- Affordable housing — “I think we can all agree this is a big benefit,” said Mr. Hancock. The project comes with two new affordable housing apartments, to be leased to applicants who earn 80 percent or less of the Dukes County the average median income (AMI).

- Increase in town tax base — benefit. The property will generate $10,612 in annual property tax value. Meal taxes will also add to town coffers.

- Economic impact — benefit. “This takes a currently derelict property and creates a viable business that is an additional attraction to the town during the shoulder seasons,” Ms. Sibley said. Once in operation, the Mr. Dunn estimates the bowling alley/entertainment center will employ 20 to 25 people, roughly half of them on a full-time basis.

- Appropriate and essential — benefit. Commissioner Tripp Barnes of Tisbury cited Mr. Dunn’s past record of building Island-appropriate, successful commercial enterprises.

- Scenic value — “A definite benefit,” Mr. Hancock said, with especially strong agreement from his fellow commissioners.

- Impact on abutters — “A slight detriment,” Mr. Hancock said,  since it was not clear whether the development would have a positive or negative impact on abutters’ property values.  

- Noise — “Of everything we talked about, this is the biggest detriment of the project,” Mr. Hancock said. After the first public hearing, where Mr. Dunn agreed there would be no amplified live music, the commission asked for an independent acoustic study.

Mr. Dunn enlisted acoustical consultants Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, the same firm that developed the successful sound mitigation protocol for Dreamland after abutters had expressed similar concerns. Cavanaugh Tocci Associates responded with a plan for the abutting wall with a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 62, per the guidelines of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). According to the ASTM, at STC 50, loud sounds like musical instruments can be faintly heard and 99 percent of the population is not annoyed. Anything over 60 is considered “superior soundproofing, most sounds inaudible.” Mr. Dunn estimated the additional sound mitigation measures will cost around $25,000.

In his offer to the commission, Mr. Dunn stated that he would take whatever actions were necessary to achieve STC 62 on the abutting wall. Although some on the commission weighed how to define the condition more specifically, at one point confusing decibels with STC, the full commission agreed to Mr. Dunn’s original wording, adding that testing would be required if and when the building is in operation.

Mr. Dunn noted that Oak Bluffs town noise statutes, cited by Attorney Ellen Kaplan in her motion to intervene on behalf of a group of 10 abutters, actually helped his case, since abutters were requesting that the bowling alley be inaudible or barely audible from a distance of five feet, whereas the town bylaw states, “Noise that is plainly audible at a distance of 150 feet from the vehicle, or premises from which it originates shall constitute prima facie evidence of violation of this bylaw.”

Also to address sound and light mitigation, per the recommendation of the Oak Bluffs planning committee on January 23, Mr. Dunn agreed to plant honey locust trees along the border residential district border. In the motion to intervene, Ms. Kaplan states, “Applicant has not made any proposals to deal with these deciduous trees which will likely deposit leaves onto the neighbor’s properties.”

In the end, commissioner Hancock, acknowledging the extensive measures Mr. Dunn has agreed to take to mitigate noise, said the noise potential was a “slight detriment.”

Drunken misbehavior

Another major point of contention was the full bar, and the increased likelihood of drunken misbehavior. Some of those opposed suggested a compromise of beer and wine only.

“We have an absolute obligation to address the request for a beer and wine license,” said commissioner Sibley. “We have not actually been presented with any studies or statistics that demonstrates that people are more rowdy after hard drinks than beer. Secondly, this is clearly the responsibility of the town.”

Mr. Dunn had previously volunteered to make last call for food and drink at 10:30 on weeknights and 11:30 on weekends. Town law states that, if he is granted a liquor license, he could make last call at 1 am.

Mr. Dunn made no offer to add additional security at closing time, as requested by opponents. Ms. Kaplan states in her motion, “Currently Oak Bluffs police concentrate their efforts in the Harbor and Circuit Avenue…A new bar in the proposed location will draw the bar scene further into the residential neighborhoods of Oak Bluffs and will divide the police presence.”

In a phone call with the Times, Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake said, “I look forward to hearing what Mr. Dunn has to say when he goes in front of the selectmen,” adding that he has been monitoring the bowling alley developments closely. “Will we be called to that area? I’m sure we will. He’s also talking about ending food and drink service before the town really gets going. From what I’ve seen, they don’t look like they’re building a bar with a bowling alley attached. But if it turned into something that got out of hand, the selectmen can act quickly to revoke or amend the license.”

Next frame

Mr. Dunn still has to get MVC approval for the final exterior lighting and landscaping plans.

On March 25 he will go before the Oak Bluffs selectmen to apply for a liquor license, something he deems as essential to the viability of the project. He will also have to go before the Oak Bluffs planning board again, since changes have been made by the MVC since the board’s previous unanimous approval.

“If all goes well, we’re hoping to break ground May 1,” Mr. Dunn said. There is a construction moratorium in downtown Oak Bluffs from June 1 to September 15, however Mr. Dunn has been informed by town officials that it would not pertain to the Uncas Ave. location.

The commission will vote on the formal language of the written decision next Thursday, March 20. Opponents may appeal the MVC’s decision in Dukes County Superior Court within 21 days after receiving the written decision by certified mail. Although MVC rulings are rarely overturned, an appeal could significantly delay construction of the project.

Ms. Kaplan did not return repeated calls from the Times.


  1. Great job Mr. Dunn. It sounds like a great project, and it will be a welcome addition to the activities available to the island residents all year long. A+++ for your willingness to go the distance. Thank you for pushing it through. Can’t wait to drop some pins when you open.

  2. I must admit that I knew very little about this American pastime of bowling. Me being me, I decided to do some research on the subject. I can now give my full endorsement to this new venture. Well done!

    My opinion was swayed after viewing a very fine documentary on the sport. It follows the trials and triumphs of a most unlikely but heartwarming pair of challenged individuals. A differently abled man teams up with a socially challenged and sheltered younger man for a bowling adventure of a lifetime. Portions of the film make for difficult viewing, but the overwhelming humanity portrayed in this work is spectacular.

    If this is the bowling culture I am all for it! Where do I sign up for the league?

    I believe the film is entitled Kingpin or some such thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

      1. Don’t feel awkward dear! Documentaries are not everyone’s cup of tea. I expect I will feel more than a little awkward the first time I face the pins with my league mates cheering me on. Let us agree to keep a stiff upper lip and bowl away.

        1. the great part about league bowling is that no matter how badly you bowl, your league mates will cheer you on, every time..

      2. The only awkward thing was that Charlotte felt the need to make sure we knew she meant Kingpin……

  3. There used to be a bowling alley on the Vineyard where NAPA Auto Parts is on State Road in VH, but it didn’t last. I hope this one does better. I think it will. Location, location, location.

    1. that bowling alley only had duckpins not real bowling..
      I think this is great–nice to see a unanimous decision..

          1. why not ? it’s a lot safer and more sane than football.
            I was in a league in high school. Bowled a 269 once – opened the 4th frame with a nine.. missed the spare.
            went bowling with the kids after 20 years and one critical finger amputation — not like a bicycle– bowled a rousing 135. :) Haven’t been on a lane since (12 years)
            I think the leagues are a real social thing.. they really run from ages 8 to 108. They are the financial backbone of most bowling alleys.. not sure if the old one here was league oriented.
            And your comment below has an easy answer– greed.

        1. Sorry, we had candle Pins !!.. it’s time to teach those that are afraid of the, (“Big Balls) 10 Pins, how much FUN the Big Balls can be.. If I have any say, we will have lessons for those who are afraid or “think” they don’t like the “real Bowling” Balls… and you should see all of the tricks they have for “kids” now, to help make their experience even more fun than the “little Balls. Trust me … Once this wonderful Project of Sam and Bob’s is done.. well.., you will realize why sooo many of us are elated. I personally can’t wait until it’s here and OPEN !!!

          1. I loved the scene in the movie “uncle Buck” in the bowling alley, where the guy is trying to flip his cigarette in his mouth..

          2. that’s what I get for not checking my facts, and just going on my memory.. I do believe you are correct on that..
            thanks for the correction..

    2. It did well.. What most people don’t know is that the owner of the property went up so high in rent that the owners couldn’t continue it… and then of course .. it sat for 3 years with nothing on it !!! why does this happen so often..

  4. @%#^$! How many freaking commitees do you have to go through with the MVC? Disgusting, now don’t forget to set their operating hours and tell me when to go to bed.

    1. Hey … now we concentrate on the O.B. selectman and hope that the liquor license goes through.. I’ve been trying to get a Bowling Alley back on the Island for years… I’m just glad it’s going to be here.. .IT’S NOT A BAR !!! It’s a place to go with Family, Friends, and even Strangers to relax and maybe have a drink while Bowling. There are plenty of Bars up the street if people want to REALLY DRINK. I wish that this alcohol “thing” would get straightened out.. Not everyone that drinks is “derelict”!!!

  5. Thank you so much Mr. Dunn for doing this. I always wished there was a bowling ally on the island while I was growing up. One suggestion: have one day a week a non-alchahol day so parents who are concerned about that can have one day where they can feel more comfortable brining there kids.

    1. What do you think this is going to be?? I grew up in a town that had a bowling alley and a mini golf in it, we went ALL the time when I was growing up for birthday parties, “play dates” (for lack of a better term) and with the family, attached is a *oh my gosh* bar, that serves *oh my gosh* alcohol. There was never a problem, never an incident or an issue, and I have been there in the past couple years and it is still the same, kids and adults only a couple lanes apart, the parents keep an eye on the kids and the adults are responsible enough to have a couple drinks and still understand there are children around. It is this overprotective craziness that is going to ruin generations to come. When I got home from school it was homework or go outside and play, not sit on my iPhone and play xBox. When I ate lunch I had, can you believe it, gluten and sugar. I played sports, climbed trees, jumped in rivers, probably ate too much dirt, but I didn’t grow up with a weak immune system or a gluten allergy. Come to think of it, when I was a kid and we had a bbq and my dad told me to grab him a beer, at the age of 7 I was able to go over to the cooler, open it, and bring my dad a beer without the world tilting off its axis. What happened to make everyone SO scared? If your afraid of all of the craziness that kids learn from video games and on the internet, and apparently the bowling alley, than why do you even let them have these things?!?

      1. I think the crazy axis tilting is based on ” Political Correctness ”
        Oops I used the word AXIS. Does that mean EVIL.
        Also we need to stop picking on those that are gluten challenged
        This may be viewed as BULLING , gees I just can’t keep up with it all!
        But the truth be told I played candle pin almost every sat in the winter with my buddies! Ten cents a string for the kids!
        Could you thank Mr Dunn for such an investment in our community
        ( after all he is an AXIS of EVIL (( devoloper )) as SiBLEY seems to think )
        Bravo and thank you for an unchallengeable investment to the year rounders !!!!!!!!!

  6. I’m so excited for the year round and summer residents that 10 Pin Bowling will be on the island and also happy to see that eyesore of a building get more than a “BIG” Facelift….. I had an idea for those of you that haven’t bowled with the “big balls” in a long time or have never experienced them. Next time you’re over at Walmart in Falmouth drive or walk to the right of the building and go out the back way to across the street where down in the back of the mini strip mall you’ll find the 10 pin Bowling Alley that we took the High School kids and Senior Citizens to. Try it out.. It may help you to rethink the idea of 10 Pin (big) vs Candle Pin (little). The bumper pads and slides for kids are a blast ! Get a taste of REAL BOWLING and by the time The New Alley here is done (hopefully Dec 2014) you may find a new found hobby…. :-)

  7. Yeah! Great for Martha’s Vineyard locals and Yipee for Oak Bluffs who will be housing it!