Oyster Bar proposes taller building with living space
The Oyster Bar Grill in Oak Bluffs plans to expand - vertically. The owners of the one-story restaurant on upper Circuit Avenue propose to renovate the structure and transform it into a three-story building housing the restaurant, a function hall, and four employee apartments.
The project has been referred to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI) due to the increased square footage and change in usage. The expanded building would be 37 feet tall, with an elevator tower stretching to nearly 42 feet.
Co-owners Michael Gillespie and Wyman Shaw, who also own Tsunami, said they are responding to a demand for public function space and affordable housing in Oak Bluffs.
The Pawnee House was one of many four-story buildings on Circuit Avenue around the turn of the last century.
"There's a massive, massive need for housing that's reasonably priced," Mr. Gillespie said. "It's out of necessity. We need a place to put people and a situation where we could actually house our managers and our chefs and some of our talented people."
The Oyster Bar opened last summer at 57 Circuit Ave., the space that had been occupied by the restaurant Balance for the previous seven years. The restaurant was scheduled for a public hearing in front of the MVC last Thursday, which was postponed. Mr. Gillespie said the Martha's Vineyard Museum asked to do a more comprehensive review of the building, before the project went before the MVC. They will meet with the Historical Society on Wednesday.
According to the MVC report, the owners plan to demolish most of the existing building, salvaging some prominent features such as the large Doric columns, textured ceiling and bar. The new building, whose footprint will be slightly smaller than the existing footprint, will house the restaurant on the ground floor, a function hall with room for 220 people on the second floor, and four two-bedrooms apartments on the third floor. There would also be a 390-square-foot roof deck, and the addition of a basement.
The owners have gained approval from the wastewater department for the increase in flow to the sewer system, but need a special permit from the planning board for parking mitigation, and a liquor license from the board of selectmen.
(Top) The existing Oyster Bar Grill as seen from Union Chapel and the proposed Oyster Bar with function space and employee housing.
The current schedule calls for construction to begin after the 2007 summer season, with completion of the first floor the following May and completion by August 2008. The function hall and restaurant will be open year-round.
Some of the planning concerns outlined by the MVC are the abutting campgrounds and their residents, parking, and additional noise.
Letters of support and concern have already been submitted to the MVC. Letters asking that the project be denied were submitted by a group of 14 abutters, and the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA).
The abutters claim the building will block sunlight and cast shadows, darkening many homes, and introduce additional noise. "Our experience with the current building is that the base register creates vibration that carries and can be heard and felt in abutting and other nearby homes," the residents wrote.
The MVCMA said the project would "significantly change the character of Cottage Park and lessen the enjoyment cottagers have experienced for over 100 years."
Mr. Gillespie acknowledged that the current building is "basically a big snare drum," but triple-paned windows, foam insulation, and a geothermal heating and cooling system in the new building will greatly reduce the noise output. "It's a quantum leap from the drum we have set up now," he said. "When it's done it's going to be one of the most soundproof buildings on the Island."
Alan Schweikert, a realtor who is nearing completion on a three-story building on Kennebec Avenue, submitted a letter of support. "The project before you is bold, ambitious and concurrent with the town's objectives," he wrote. "I am hopeful that you will encourage this applicant, approve his plan, and in doing so, you will help to resurrect the Victorian flavor that made Oak Bluffs a popular and unique retreat over 100 years ago."
Bob Hughes, a 92-year old Oak Bluffs resident, said during his youth many of the buildings on Circuit Avenue were at least three stories. He recalled the Pawnee House, a wide building that stretched four stories, and similar rooming houses that provided lodging for many people in the downtown area.
John Abrams, the president and CEO of South Mountain Company who also serves on the boards of the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust, said the addition of housing to commercial areas is helpful to the towns. "Conceptually, I'm a strong believer of going up rather than out, and mixing commercial and residential uses," he said. "Also, people more and more want to live in town. And I think that bodes really well for these types of projects."