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Edgartown Lofts

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The Edgartown planning board cancelled its regular meeting Tuesday, rescheduling it to next Tuesday, August 12, at 5:30 pm. The board is considering an application for a special permit from developer Charles Hajjar, who wants to construct eight loft apartments in the Edgartown triangle business district. The rescheduled session will be the fifth meeting on the project since the hearing began July 1.

At the previous planning board meeting, the board closed the public hearing after testimony from many neighbors who opposed the construction. Board members began their debate by asking Mr. Hajjar and his attorney, Sean Murphy, questions from a three-page list of technical issues on setback waivers, parking lot redesign, and construction plans, among other topics.

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— Photo by Steve Myrick

The Edgartown planning board continued the public hearing on a proposal to build loft apartments in the triangle business area to a third session, following nearly two hours of testimony, almost all of it read, before a packed meeting room, at its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Nearly the entire session consisted of the planning board members, reading dozens of letters and emails, some of them as much as a year old, aloud into the public record. Most of the letters read Tuesday were in opposition to the project planned by developer Charles Hajjar.

Approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on May 9, the plan includes eight rental units, with a total of 15 bedrooms, in the second floor attic space of the two buildings which house the U.S. Post Office, banks, and other businesses. The developer plans to reconfigure the parking lot to increase the number of spaces from 69 to 83, including four handicapped parking spaces.

Among the letters read aloud Tuesday was one written by Diane Smith of Chilmark.

“Many of us remain extremely concerned about the proposed Edgartown loft apartments at the already congested triangle area, for reasons of both safety and sanity,” Ms. Smith wrote in the letter read aloud by planning board member Alan Wilson. “We need more planning from our planning boards and fewer knee-jerk reactions.”

Ms. Smith directed criticism at Mr. Hajjar, and his attorney, Edgartown attorney Sean Murphy. She accused them of making several changes in the project plans.

“From the very beginning, also, the applicant and his attorney, Sean Murphy, have played a game of bait-and-switch with the public, feigning concern for the community and snowing us with pretty pictures and interminably long and repetitive presentations which seem to get twisted just a little bit more every time. Mr. Hajjar and his attorney may have flim-flammed the M.V. Commision and the Edgartown planning board, but they can’t flim-flam us if we all speak up, and out, together.”

Mr. Murphy took exception to the letter, which he said was part of an organized letter writing campaign. He said the project has remained consistent from the beginning. “I have no problem with anybody opposing this project,” he said. “That’s how democracy works. I do have a problem being called a flim-flam artist and bait-and-switch and a whole other host of issues from a woman up in Chilmark looking down on us from Bumblebee Hill, who flipped her house for $300,000 in Edgartown and moved up to Chilmark. Now she’s going to give this planning board a lecture about flim-flam and bait-and-switch. I find it personally offensive, and I think my client finds it offensive at well.”

The public hearing is scheduled to resume on Thursday, July 24 at 5:30 pm. Planning board chairman Fred Mascolo said new letters and new testimony will be allowed, before the board votes on the application.

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Architect Charles Orlando presented structural plans for Edgartown lofts at a MVC public hearing Thursday night. — Michelle Gross

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) held its first public hearing on the Edgartown lofts project Thursday before a room full of mostly neighborhood critics, who cited concerns about increased parking problems, traffic, and late night noise.

Boston based developer and seasonal Oak Bluffs resident Charles Hajjar proposes to build one three-bedroom apartment, eight two-bedroom apartments, and one one-bedroom apartment, a total of 20 bedrooms in the loft space of the Post Office Square complex, which now houses the Edgartown Post Office and several businesses.

The plan includes a reconfigured parking lot that would add 15 parking spots. The complex is located in the town’s BII business district and abuts the Dark Woods neighborhood and the Edgartown Park & Ride lot.

The MVC has scheduled a second public hearing on April 17.

Year-round rentals

The apartments are intended to be “reasonably priced” year-round rentals, Sean Murphy, an Edgartown lawyer representing Mr. Hajjar, told the commissioners Thursday night.

“What he does is apartment rentals,” Mr. Murphy told commissioners. “He doesn’t do high-end luxury housing, he doesn’t do condos, he just does apartments. The reason he chose this location, while it certainly has drawbacks, because of traffic and parking, is because of the smart growth principles that everybody stresses out here.”

Project engineer George Sourati of Vineyard Haven based Sourati Engineering Group, discussed the redesign of the Post Office Square parking lot.

“It’s a great improvement over the existing conditions,” Mr. Sourati said. “We’re getting 15 spaces, it’s a much safer parking lot. It works.”

Architect Charles Orlando presented commissioners with draft elevations and hand-drawn designs of the lofts and the lot.

The height of the structure will remain the same, and the apartments will be separated by “dormers” or wall separators, Mr. Orlando said. The proposal also includes planting 10 14-foot trees to mask two new exterior sets of stairs.

“The units are quite nice. They range from 900 to 1,400 square feet; they’re quite large,” Mr. Orlando said. “There’s going to be more insulation and more sound proofing between the retail space below and the housing units above.”

There are a total of 16 business units in the Post Office Square complex. Edgartown Meat & Fish and Granite Hardware operate in two of the buildings.

MVC, planning board views

Throughout the presentation, commissioners asked few questions.

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs asked if there would be a space for children to play.

“We don’t anticipate children,” Mr. Murphy said. He said the complex isn’t family oriented. “We do not anticipate families. We anticipate younger couples. There’s not outdoor space here; it’s not really family oriented.”

Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs asked about subletting restrictions on the year-round rentals.

Mr. Murphy said management would be onsite regularly. “If you rent from him (Mr. Hajjar) that’s it, there no subletting, you’re the tenant.”

Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, MVC hearing chairman, questioned how much space existed between the complex and Dark Woods Road.

Trip Barnes of Tisbury asked if the apartments might later become condos and be sold. The answer was no.

The Edgartown planning board has strongly endorsed the project.  In a letter to the MVC dated June 24, 2013, the planning board asked the MVC to waive a mandatory traffic study, stating that an earlier study was sufficient and that town boards were more than capable of reviewing the project and attaching conditions.

The planning board has come under fire from opponents of the project, a fact that planning board chairman Robert Sparks noted in his comments.

“We are elected public officials, we give our time, our expertise at no compensation, and two of the letters in your packet are from people complaining about the board and call us at best unprofessional and at worst probably criminal and that we make decisions on the planning board based upon a sliding scale of chumminess with people that come before our board,” Mr. Sparks said. “Just so everybody knows, none of us has ever met Mr. Hajjar before he applied. We do our job, based on what we think is best and what is in the best interest of the town, and we thank you for going over this. We have lot to say about traffic, but I just wanted the board to hear that, because frankly, I find it outrageous. So far this year we’ve been called Nazis, communists, murderers, and now we’re corrupt public officials.”

Edgartown planning board member Michael McCourt noted that Post Office Square business owners support the project.

“I do have some questions on the parking situation. That is a concern of all of us, especially when we live in Edgartown,” Mr. McCourt said. “In hindsight, if this plan has been approved by the businesses in the triangle, they know their businesses better than I, and if they feel this parking plan is good, then I’m all for it.”

Lofty objections

Several abutters spoke about the existing congestion at The Triangle, where traffic from Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven merge to enter downtown Edgartown, as well as the regulation of the public lot.

Fred Roven, whose real estate office is located on the north side of Mariners Way, said parking was among his biggest concerns.

“I’m concerned about a number of things, but one has to do with the nature of the parking in the current area,” Mr. Roven said. “Most of it is short term parking.”

Kevin Ryan of Edgartown had many concerns. “I have such a long list, I’ll try and keep it to the five things I’m most concerned about,” Mr. Ryan said. “I’m here just because none of this project makes sense to me as somebody that lives in, drives through, and utilizes these areas in Edgartown.”

Mr. Ryan’s concerns centered around the parking lot.

“It is short term parking already,” Mr. Ryan said. “I really have an issue with the idea that we only need to add 14 spaces. It’s unrealistic, and I think it’s crazy to think that that’s going to solve the problem.”

Mr. Ryan also recommended that snow removal be a requirement in the lot.

“Snow removal should be a requirement,” Mr. Ryan said. “The owner should have to be responsible for having the snow removed from the site going forward.”

Abutter Dianne Smith also expressed concern about the lot. “My concern, aside from the issue of enforcement, is that there is no way to really enforce parking, traffic, or anything else in this lot with regard to public officials, because this is a private lot,” Ms. Smith said. “And currently it’s not being very well taken care of by the current owner, who’s had it for a year.”

Jeff White, also an abutter, said the loft project is the right idea, but in the wrong location.

“I don’t think it’s the right place,” Mr. White said. “This area in Post Office Square is just too dense. The density of this area and the resulting congestion has already, in my opinion, exceeded acceptable levels.”

Mr. White implored commissioners to flesh the project out as thoroughly as possible. “We have the opportunity through this Martha’s Vineyard Commission DRI  process to control what happens, and I hope, and I encourage, the commission to look at all this data very carefully so that the best can be done for the most people.”

Fred Fournier, a landscape architect who is also an abutter to the project, said, “Its our neighborhood, and we’re concerned about it, and that’s why we’re here to discuss it.”

Mark Saccone, a direct abutter, took a diplomatic approach. “It’s impossible for me to say anything without sounding petty,” Mr. Saccone said. “This ends life as I know it for my house, it does. But if we’re very sure that the whole town is going to benefit from this, if we’re very, very certain, far be it for me to come off like some parochial jerk. I’m not that kind of person. But, I just want you to know that somebody does live back there, and I’ve been sitting here thinking, how do I go home and tell my wife that by her garden is going to be a sewer grinder pump station not five feet away?”