Oak Bluffs building inspector declares Island Theater unsafe, again

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The Island Theater has been declared "dangerous" by an independent Board of Survey. — File photo Stacey Rupolo

The movie “Groundhog Day” appears to be playing at the long-shuttered Island Theater, on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. For the third time in two years, building inspector Mark Barbadoro has declared the Island Theater to be unsafe.

Four months ago, Mr. Barbadoro gave brothers Ben and Brian Hall, co-owners of the building, a deadline of Oct. 15 to make the building safe. On Tuesday, Oct. 25, he told The Times that no building-permit application had been filed with his office.

“My intention is to follow the letter of the law,” the building inspector said. “So if I go to court, I can say, ‘Here’s what the law says, here’s what I did, here’s what the law requires to happen next.’”

Mr. Barbadoro said in addition to his concern about the safety of the building, he was also concerned that, should the building be demolished, the town will end up with a gaping hole at the end of Circuit Avenue: “There would be a chainlink fence probably, and a lot with gravel. It’s not going to be a good thing. What I have been trying to do is cajole them, talk to them, drag them kicking and screaming into fixing it, but nothing’s changed. I’m out of options.”

Mr. Barbadoro said the previous two “unsafe” notices sparked some activity, including the addition of a new roof, but the drop-dead date to make the building safe has come and gone.

“My sense is that people in town don’t want the building to come down,” he said. “I think they’d want it painted and occupied.”

Mr. Barbadoro said the 100-plus-year-old theater could conceivably be saved. “Any building is salvageable,” he said, “if you put enough time and money into it.”

Moving forward, Mr. Barbadoro said he will send the Hall brothers a certified letter. If the return receipt is slow in coming, as it has been before, he will go to town counsel to gain entrance to the building with a board of survey, which consists of an objective person, a surveyor, and the fire chief.

“If they disagree with me that it’s unsafe, I don’t do anything. But I highly doubt that will happen,” he said. “If they declare the building dangerous, I hire workmen and knock the building down.”

Mr. Barbadoro said his department has no funds to demolish the building. It will be up to the selectmen to take action. According to Massachusetts state law, if the town does demolish it under the “dangerous building” proviso, the owners, or their trust, must pay for it.

According to the Oak Bluffs assessor’s office, the Island Theater was most recently assessed at a value of $768,600, and the property tax was $6,770.

“People can hold onto derelict properties for a long time in Massachusetts, especially on Martha’s Vineyard, where property taxes are so low,” Mr. Barbadoro said.

Speaking to The Times on Wednesday, Brian Hall said that John Keenan of Keenan + Kenny architects had made a site visit a little over two weeks ago, and he was waiting to hear back from him. “They dealt with an old masonry building at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy that has similar issues that the Island Theater has,” he said.

Keenan + Kenny have worked on numerous projects on the Vineyard, including the new Oak Bluffs fire station, the West Tisbury Public Safety Building, and the West Tisbury School.

“We’re moving forward the best we can,” Mr. Hall said. “I understand that Mark is doing what he has to do. He’s under a lot of pressure.”

In the past, the Hall family has shown a willingness to let valuable properties deteriorate even as they squabble with town officials. That has been the case in downtown Edgartown, where the so-called “yellow house” in a prime retail location on the corner of Main and Summer streets has sat vacant for years because of a long-running dispute over the town’s refusal to allow the Halls to cut down a linden tree in front of the house. Built in 1850, the yellow house was assessed at $1.93 million in 2016.