Oak Bluffs inventories its buildings
Stretches of valuable oceanfront property and beloved landmarks such the Flying Horses Carousel often take center stage in Oak Bluffs. But there are also a handful of buildings whose usefulness and importance to town residents far outweigh their market value.
In response to a query by selectmen about what could be done with those buildings, some of them abandoned and falling into disrepair, the Oak Bluffs Community Development Committee (CDC) created a multi-page report this fall. In total, six buildings and lots in various parts of town were assessed for their current and future use, along with the benefits or drawbacks of selling them.
The report listed up to seven possible uses for each property, with pros and cons for those various options. The first option for each property is to leave it alone, followed by swapping for another municipal building, selling, leasing, tearing down and starting fresh, and converting to affordable housing.
Although their placement is not permanent, the Oak Bluffs police are happily stationed in the old town hall. Other possibilities for that building include selling it, demolition, or additional renovations for as yet unspecified purposes. Photo by Tamar Russell
The CDC assessed the following buildings and properties: the old Oak Bluffs school, land on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, the old library, a BFI warehouse, the old town hall, and the possibility of an all-inclusive public safety building.
The old Oak Bluffs school, across from the new library on School Street, was the first municipal building assessed by the CDC. Currently owned by the Catholic Church and used by them for various gatherings, the 14,791-square-foot structure has four possible uses, none of which would generate income, but would fulfill current town needs. The building and the property it is located on are together assessed at $1,310,800.
Using the old school as a location for the Oak Bluffs town hall was the first option explored, which would free up the current town hall for other uses, and provide extra parking for town employees. On the downside, in order to be used for a town hall, an elevator must be installed in the two-story structure, and the old building would need various facility and maintenance upgrades.
Turning the former schoolhouse into affordable housing or the police station was also explored. All of the options would require a major financial commitment, but would also provide more working space for employees and better access to parking than the current locations.
Despite being old and without an elevator, the old Oak Bluffs School could be used as the town hall or police headquarters in the future, according to a report profiling town buildings. Photo by Ralph Stewart
The report also explored turning the old school into a senior center, to replace the current Uncas Avenue location. Pros listed are easier parking, the sale of the current senior center to create affordable housing, and an open location for a possible youth recreation center. Cons listed are the necessity of major renovations and the installation of an elevator.
The second property evaluated was a seven-acre plot of land along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near the M.V. Arena and across from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. According to the report, the lot is vacant and available, and "appears, based on limited data, to be readily developable."
The town owns the land, assessed at $499,200, as a resident homesite property, and sees it as a good site for housing due to its proximity to the bus route and other residential areas such as the Southern Woodlands, the report states.
The report estimates that up to 15 units of housing could be created on the property. By doing nothing and leaving the lot vacant, it could be available for future sale to a private developer.
The old Oak Bluffs library, which was vacated a year ago when the newer, more expansive version opened its doors, is today sitting empty on Circuit Avenue with boards covering the windows. The building is a blemish on a highly trafficked area of town, the report states, and the town would benefit greatly by selling or updating the property.
The old library was the topic of a brief discussion among the Oak Bluffs selectmen this summer, who agreed that it should be maintained even in the interim before a permanent use is designated.
According to the report, selling the property would bring immediate income to the town while maintaining the integrity of the zoning restrictions in that area.
Other outlined possibilities include a swap for the BFI property, or retaining the building for housing or business uses.
The 3,761-square-foot building, situated on over 8,000 square feet of land, had an addition put on in 1989. The structure and land together are worth $621,100, according to the report.
A vacant warehouse on Pacific Avenue was evaluated as being a possible location for affordable housing or new police headquarters. The warehouse, which sits on a chunk of land across from the town hall, was once used by the BFI waste company for storage and is now owned by Frank Fenner, a Chilmark selectman.
The CDC also listed simply demolishing the structure, which is valued at just more than $200,000, and starting from scratch.
The most valuable property evaluated by the CDC was the old town hall, located on Oak Bluffs Avenue across from the Steamship Authority terminal. Assessed at $1,868,100 - most of which is for the valuable location of the land - the structure is currently used as the Oak Bluffs police headquarters. The report says the town is waiting for "the right development idea" to come along.
One possibility listed is to sell the building, which, according to the report, would bring an immediate windfall of income, but would also bring the loss of a nostalgic town site. Leasing the land to a developer is another option, and demolishing the building outright was also explored.
Although the placement is not permanent, Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake said his department is content with their current post at the old town hall. The building went through various renovations this fall to bring it up to speed for use by the department, and now provides ample space for the employees, Chief Blake said recently.
The old town hall was the most widely discussed building in the report, with an equal amount of pros and cons listed for each of the seven options.
What to do, what to do?
The last municipal building evaluated in the report does not currently exist. The CDC explored the idea of an all-encompassing public safety building on County Road where the current fire station is located. The building would bring fire, police, and emergency services together in one building.
"The fire station lacks facilities for hazardous situations and has operational needs," the report states, adding that a public safety facility would allow for reception and training facilities, and more efficient safety and security services for residents in need.
While the CDC report does not directly recommend what each building should be used for, it does consolidate a mass of information into a convenient packet for selectmen and other town officials to mull over.
Town administrator Michael Dutton said the report was presented to selectmen in October, and they have been taking time to review the information. Ideas of a "campus setting" where all the town buildings are clumped together, is one abstract idea, while the old library and old town hall are the town's top priorities, he said.
At best, the board would make a decision and present an option to voters at the April town meeting, but more time might be necessary.