Selectmen threaten Santander with MVC over roof project

Tisbury selectmen said they will name the project a DRI if the bank fails to comply with town requests to maintain the appearance of the roof.

Workers replace roof tiles on the Santander bank in Vineyard Haven on Thursday. -Idalyn Gilstad

Dismayed and out of the loop, Tisbury selectmen took two unexpected votes at their Tuesday meeting in connection with the start of roof construction Tuesday at the Santander Bank, which occupies a historic building with distinctive roof tiles on Main Street. Depending on the response from bank officials, selectmen said they may refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI).

Alerted by calls from concerned townspeople, the town administrator and selectmen said they learned that the bank was replacing the ceramic tiles on the roof of the main building with asphalt-like shingles, drastically altering the appearance of the building.

Although the bank is in compliance with all permitting procedures, selectman Tristan Israel made a motion to have building and zoning board inspector Ken Barwick request that Santander consider a “compatible design” to the original roof. Selectman Larry Gomez seconded the motion. The selectmen, including Melinda Loberg, voted unanimously to approve it.

MVC referral

Mr. Barwick told selectmen he would convey their dismay as a town to Santander, but cautioned that if the bank stopped construction, predicted bad weather would cause more damage to the interior of the building, which has already been damaged by leaks.

Following up on the first vote, and with the permit still open as long as work continues, Mr. Israel made a second motion to refer the roof project as a DRI to the MVC, in an effort to ensure the bank complies with the town’s request.

With the prospect that Hurricane Matthew might come up the coast — a prediction since changed — selectmen chairman Melinda Loberg, town administrator Jay Grande, and Mr. Barwick expressed concern about any action that might leave the bank vulnerable to weather.

Mr. Grande advised that the motion include wording that selectmen did not want the work to stop, ensuring that current construction continued in order to make the roof “weather tight.”

Mr. Gomez seconded the motion. Mr. Israel and Mr. Gomez voted in favor. Ms. Loberg abstained.

Mr. Israel and Mr. Gomez expressed concern over the “insensitivity” of the bank in not consulting with the town regarding the design of the roof, since the building is considered a historic landmark.

“That’s a complete disregard to the town and to a historical building,” Mr. Gomez said.

‘Under the radar’

Although the bank applied for the building permit in July, selectmen were unaware of the project, a fact they attributed to the bank’s compliance with proper permitting. Mr. Grande told selectmen Santander went through a normal building-permit process, and had the proper licenses and insurance to do the work.

“I think it was just a surprise that there wasn’t any additional communication about that particular building, because it’s such a landmark building,” Mr. Grande said.

Asked on Wednesday why selectmen were unaware, Ms. Loberg told The Times it wasn’t brought to their attention because the bank followed the right procedures and there was no reason to deny them a permit.

“It was sort of an under-the-radar thing,” Ms. Loberg said.

Her reason for abstaining, she said, was “complicated.” Although Ms. Loberg agreed with her colleagues on the historic value of the building, she said she didn’t want to punish a business when the town was partially responsible. She agreed the bank didn’t show sensitivity to the town’s concerns, but feared a reactionary stop-work order during bad weather could do more harm than good to the building. Ms. Loberg said she didn’t think it “rose to the challenge” of sending the project to the MVC.

“The fact that they applied for this permit in July and we’re having this conversation in October, when they have already torn off the current roof, puts the bank in a terrible position,” Ms. Loberg said. “I just didn’t think it was fair of the town to do it that way. We had ample opportunities, had we known about it, to do something to get the outcome we wanted.”

Mr. Israel told The Times on Wednesday that sending the project to the MVC could require Santander to put “a façade” over what is currently being built in order for the roof to reflect the building’s original design. He said that both the building and the roof had historical value in Tisbury, and he wished that Santander had communicated with the town before construction.

“At this point in the game, sitting at a selectmen’s meeting, there weren’t a lot of tools left,” Mr. Israel said. “Sending it to the MVC seemed to be the only tool left to deal with this.”