The vacant, rotting building on what has come to be known as the “Boch lot,” a three-quarter-acre property overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor between the Black Dog wharf and Gannon & Benjamin shipyard, will be demolished. Although the demolition is certain, the timeline for doing so isn’t so clear, nor is what will replace it.
“It was condemned over a year ago,” Tisbury Building Inspector Ken Barwick said. “That building is structurally unstable and unsafe, and the best home for it would be to demolish it and take the building materials to the landfill.”
The cluster of wooden buildings are the remnants of the long-ago Hancock contracting business, now a dilapidated cornerstone to the lot. Owner Ernie Boch Jr., a seasonal Edgartown resident and owner of the successful auto dealership empire his father built, would like to see something become of the property.
Mr. Boch’s father, Ernie Boch Sr., purchased the property in 1987 for $600,000, and created a valet parking lot that immediately landed him in hot water and initiated a long regulatory battle and lawsuit. Mr. Boch died in July 2003. For the most part, the valuable piece of property has sat unused.
Mr. Boch envisions condos overlooking the picturesque harbor. Before any physical action is taken, however, including demolishing the rotting structure, Mr. Boch wants assurances from the town that he can use the footprint of the current building.
“We’re negotiating with the town now regarding when the building will be taken down, because we want to be sure we can keep the footprint,” he said. “In most town bylaws, if you take a building down, they will let you keep the footprint so you can build something else on it and not deal with repermitting and special permits and everything like that. That’s normally what happens.”
His plans are further complicated by zoning bylaws that restrict any uses to marine purposes.
At annual town meeting in 1996, Tisbury voters approved new zoning bylaws that created a Waterfront and Commercial District. In general, the waterfront district encompasses the land 100 feet back from Vineyard Haven Harbor and 100 feet back from Lagoon Pond. The thin zoning district stretches from the Steamship Authority terminal to the drawbridge and back to Maciel Marine on Lagoon Pond.
The bylaws stipulate that any development within the district must be marine- or harbor-related, and specifically mentions aquaculture facilities, commercial fishing and fish processing, boatyards, facilities for tugboats and other vessels involved in port operations, and marine terminals. It also allows a wildlife refuge or park that promotes public enjoyment of the harbor.
Though the waterfront zoning was intended to encourage marine uses, it was also meant to preserve the working waterfront. There was fear at the time of the zoning changes that developers would buy out marine businesses and use the land for other kinds of development, but in nearly two decades since the zoning changes took effect, no marine-based development has been built.
Mr. Boch pointed out the lack of any new development. “Look at Beach Road; I think there’re issues all over the place there,” he said. “That road looks the same as it did when I first went to the Island in 1966. Something has to change there.”
For now, Mr. Boch is just concerned about moving forward with his own vision.
“I’ve been pursuing this for 10 years, 15 years,” he said. “I would like to go before the planning board sometime soon. I don’t have a hard date. The plan is just being developed now. We’re keeping the bylaws in mind and keeping what I want to do in mind, and hopefully they will merge and go well together.”
Town open to ideas
Tisbury planning board Chairman Daniel Seidman said he is not aware of any plans for the property. “My understanding was that the building was condemned and it was supposed to be taken down; that’s the last I heard,” he said. “It hasn’t come before us for any new use.”
He said the board does have ideas for the property, and would welcome discussion with Mr. Boch. “We’d certainly like to talk to him and see what he has in mind,” Mr. Seidman said. “It’s a great piece of property. We’d like to know what he’d like to do with it.”
But, he said, any new construction will have to abide by the waterfront commercial district bylaw.
“Anything new has to abide by the rules, because it hasn’t been used for anything,” he said. “It’s pre-existing, nonconforming in a sense because it’s been there before zoning. That’s why it was a parking lot, and got shut down, because it couldn’t be done in a waterfront commercial district.”
Mr. Seidman said he would not speculate on Mr. Boch’s intentions until he appears before the board. “He’s never come before us; there’s never been an idea put before us or a suggestion on what his intentions are or were,” Mr. Seidman said. “I guess he just doesn’t have any solid plans.”
Mr. Barwick said he has not heard anything directly from Mr. Boch either. He has only spoken with the engineers and legal counsel hired by Mr. Boch. He hasn’t heard of any specific development plans, nor are those plans his immediate concern.
“Right now my focus is to get that building down that’s on the property today,” he said. “Once that building is down, maybe in a short or moderate period of time, he may come up with a proposal to submit to the town for review and comment.”
He said he does think the property should be developed at some point, however. “Sooner or later something down there is going to happen, I’m confident of that,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property with the harborfront interface, so obviously it would make sense to put something there. It would be a benefit to him and to the town and for the Island, for that matter, as a whole.”