State Road owners put Saltwater restaurant on their plate

The sale of Saltwater restaurant in Tisbury Marketplace has been held up in the Tisbury planning board. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The planned sale of Saltwater restaurant in the Tisbury Marketplace by owner Reid “Sam” Dunn to Mary and Jackson Kenworth, owners of State Road restaurant in West Tisbury, moved closer to fruition last Wednesday with long-awaited approvals from the Tisbury planning board.

The Kenworths, who have developed a reputation for quality service and food, said although their plans aren’t complete yet, their concept to date is to operate a seasonal restaurant, serving dinner only, in the dining room. In an area to the left of the front entrance, they want to operate a year-round coffee bar and sell prepared food items such as baked goods, salads, and sandwiches.

The deal has simmered since last May, when the Kenworths entered into an agreement with Mr. Dunn to buy Saltwater. As part of the purchase and sales agreement, the Kenworths’ attorneys requested that Mr. Dunn return to the planning board for an amendment to his special permit to reflect an accurate seat count and the addition of wait service in the screened-in porch.

Mr. Dunn applied to the Planning Board on May 13 to amend his special permit. Concurrently, the Kenworths applied for a special permit to operate a year-round food-service establishment at the Tisbury Marketplace site.

Over the next several months, Mr. Dunn had good reason to think he was on the griddle, and that the deal might not go through. At issue was a small screened-in porch and an increase in seating it created that were permitted by some local boards but not approved as a change by the Planning Board.

Regulatory maze

Mr. Dunn, an architect, developed and opened the Tisbury Marketplace off Beach Road in 1984 with a closely held partnership. The Tisbury Marketplace Condominium Association (TMCA) was formed in 1989, and the Marketplace’s spaces were individually purchased as condominiums. Mr. Dunn retained development rights for three areas for possible future expansion, including Saltwater’s site, formerly occupied by the Daily Grind restaurant.

Prior to opening Saltwater in summer 2008, Mr. Dunn said he received approval from the town board of health (BOH) and sewer-flow review board (SFRB) to increase the number of seats to 62. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved plans to screen in the patio and add seats in May 2009, judging it a modification that was not significant enough to require a public hearing.

Mr. Dunn said he also received approval from four town boards in the spring of 2009, including the site-plan review board, on which planning board co-chairman Tony Peak then served.

“I wasn’t referred back to the Planning Board at that time,” Mr. Dunn said. “I didn’t know I had to go, until I went to sell the restaurant. That’s when I realized I had never updated the special permit from the planning board.”

Mr. Dunn said he filed an application to amend his special permit last May, and the planning board began the public hearing on his application on June 4. Henry Stephenson and Dan Seidman served as the board’s co-chairmen at that time, and Mr. Stephenson ran the hearing. Mr. Seidman was out of town for the hearing’s start.

Planning Board delays

What Mr. Dunn thought would be a simple process was not. The hearing was continued to June 25 at the request of Mr. Peak, who raised complex questions about possible restrictions on the restaurant’s land use deriving from the Tisbury Marketplace condominium agreement. Mr. Peak said he needed to seek guidance from town legal counsel regarding condominium issues.

The board agreed and continued the hearing again to July 23, at which time Mr. Dunn said he was surprised to learn that one month had gone by and Mr. Peak had not yet presented his questions to town counsel David Doneski.

The friction between Mr. Peak and Mr. Dunn was obvious. At that meeting Mr. Peak read a statement in which he said he “had come to the conclusion that I have an irreconcilable conflict between what I could be potentially be called upon to do as an elected official and member of the board, and what I feel I would be prepared to do for personal reasons.”

Mr. Peak asked to be recused from participating because he said he did not feel he could be objective, according to the meeting minutes.

Mr. Stephenson then closed the hearing due to lack of a quorum, and Mr. Dunn asked to withdraw his application. He asked to reapply so that the planning board could schedule a new hearing as soon as possible.

In a two-page letter to Mr. Doneski dated July 23, Mr. Peak asked for guidance on numerous issues related to the regulatory framework for condominium developments and zoning bylaws. “These are confusing issues,” Mr. Peak said, “and unfortunately I think there are applicants who seek to profit improperly and, in my opinion, to the town’s detriment from this confusion.”

Mr. Stephenson resigned from the board in August. Without him and Mr. Peak, the board did not have a quorum. Mr. Dunn expressed concern that the process might take months, ending the deal with the Jacksons. Ben Robinson was appointed as a voting member on Sept. 3.

The question of a quorum was raised again last week. Mr. Peak made a brief appearance to recuse himself. Dan Seidman, board chairman, said  alternate member Doug Reece was ineligible to vote in Mr. Peak’s absence because he serves as the chairman of Tisbury Marketplace’s board of trustees, which is a conflict of interest since Mr. Dunn is one of the condominium owners.

Mr. Dunn’s attorney, Ron McCarron, disagreed, citing Mr. Reece’s lack of financial interest in the matter. Mr. Seidman said the decision was his to make as chairman, and he stuck by it.

After a brief conference in the hallway with Mr. Dunn and the Kenworths, Attorney McCarron said, “We would agree to proceed under protest and reserving any rights concerning the validity of the meeting and the decision.”

Mr. Seidman and board members Cheryl Doble, Ben Robinson, and Jeffry Thompson voted unanimously to approve an amended special permit for Mr. Dunn to allow the additional wait service on the porch and to include its 5 seats in the restaurant’s total, bringing it to 82.

The board also voted to grant a special permit to the Kenworths to operate an 82-seat year-round establishment at the Saltwater site from 9 am to 10 pm, and to relocate a sign for the restaurant that is currently mounted on a tree outside.

“I was very pleased with the decision,” Mr. Dunn told The Times afterward. “The hearing went on for a long time, but once they got down to the end, it was well done. Dan Seidman acted very professionally and did a really good job.”

Ms. Kenworth said they made the decision to apply for a seasonal, rather than year-round, beer and wine license from the town to start. Although there will be no seating in the coffee bar, she said patrons could sit in the screened-in porch and at picnic tables outside in nice weather.

The Kenworths said once the restaurant sale is final, they would submit proper plans to the condominium association and seek approval for any building improvements they might make.

Vineyard savvy

Saltwater features an elegant dining room with a high vaulted ceiling and a wall of windows overlooking Lagoon Pond. Saltwater received a beer and wine license in 2010.

Mr. Dunn said he decided to sell Saltwater because of a new bowling alley/entertainment center he is building in Oak Bluffs with partners Barry Reeves and Bob Sawyer, which will include a restaurant and bar.

“I think owning one restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard is enough for this ol’ grandpa,” he told The Times in a recent phone conversation.

The Kenworths, former owners of the Sweet Life Café and Slice of Life restaurants on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, opened their popular State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury in 2009. Their newest venture quickly gained a loyal following, and has attracted celebrity diners who include Barack and Michelle Obama.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that at the time of the June 4 hearing, Henry Stephenson and Tony Peak served as the board’s co-chairmen, and Mr. Stephenson ran the hearing. In fact, Henry Stephenson and Dan Seidman served as the board’s co-chairmen at that time, and Mr. Stephenson ran the hearing. Mr. Seidman was out of town for the hearing’s start.