Last week, even as construction crews were placing the final shingles on the Santander Bank roof, unhappy Tisbury selectmen voted to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). At their Tuesday meeting, selectmen learned that the red clay tiles on the historic building were being replaced with red asphalt shingles.
In a two-part carrot-and-stick vote, selectmen Tristan Israel, Larry Gomez, and Melinda Loberg asked building inspector Ken Barwick to contact bank officials and ask if they would consider replacing the clay tiles. Selectmen Israel and Gomez then voted to refer the project to the MVC under their own auspices — chairman Loberg abstained.
A later review of the MVC DRI checklist revealed that any alteration of the building, which was built in 1905, should have triggered a referral to the MVC as a DRI when the bank applied for a building permit. Under “historical structures,” the checklist that triggers an automatic, as opposed to a discretionary, referral states that if a building is over 100 years old, any exterior alteration to it or the demolition of it qualifies the building as a DRI and requires that it be referred to the MVC.
In a telephone conversation Friday, Mr. Barwick said he was aware of the shingles, and that his failure to refer the project to the MVC, or notify selectmen of the change, was an oversight on his part.
“It’s me taking the blame for not following through,” Mr. Barwick said.
The building permit for the project was filed on August 4, and approved by Mr. Barwick. The permit application, which was received the same day the permit was filed, stated that construction would “remove and replace existing roof with asphalt shingle roof.”
The section of the application that requested specifics of the project, for example “roof cover,” was not filled out.
In a conversation Friday, Ms. Loberg said that although accountable, Mr. Barwick was following standard procedures.
“He’s accountable, but he was acting within his jurisdiction,” Ms. Loberg said. “It’s a matter of subjectivity about whether it should’ve rung a bell that this was a building over 100 years old and something had to happen.”
During the discussion surrounding the bank project when selectmen met on Oct. 4, selectmen Israel and Gomez roundly criticized Santander for proceeding to replace the tiles.
“That’s a complete disregard for the town, they just don’t care,” Mr. Gomez said.
“Too bad Santander Bank doesn’t have more sensitivity about the community,” Mr. Israel said.
Mr. Barwick and town administrator John Grande told selectmen that the bank had followed all the rules.
Positive result sought
In a conversation with The Times this week, Mr. Grande said that although the town is pursuing a resolution with the bank, no decisions have been made. He said the DRI was sent by certified mail to the MVC on Tuesday.
“We are following both tracks,” Mr. Grande said.
As to accountability, Mr. Grande told The Times that he is focused on following the selectmen’s motions and reaching a “positive result.” Mr. Grande said they will go back and “audit” the process, but that they won’t do that until they address the issue.
“I’m interested in a resolution that satisfies the selectmen’s motions,” Mr. Grande said.
MVC DRI coordinator Paul Foley told The Times that building and zoning board inspector Ken Barwick notified him that the DRI was sent. Mr. Foley said he tried to contact two Santander Bank representatives on Tuesday, but has not yet been able to reach them. He said the MVC could not schedule a hearing until they are in contact with the bank.
Once a hearing is scheduled, it would be up to the full commission to accept the referral or send it back to the appropriate town board.
Mr. Foley said that although it was an oversight, he held Mr. Barwick in high regard. “He is an excellent public servant and an excellent building inspector,” Mr. Foley said. “He made a mistake and an oversight, and I’m confident it will be fixed.”
One thing most will agree on is the historical significance of the building to the town. Mr. Foley said he would suggest that the town have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It really is a gem,” Mr. Foley said.
Santander spokeswoman Ann Davis, senior manager of external communications in Boston, emailed a statement to The Times on Wednesday.
“Santander Bank is sensitive to the historical significance of the building we own on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. We are committed to being a good neighbor to the Martha’s Vineyard community, and we are looking at all of our options. We will continue to keep the lines of communication open on this issue.”
The building was constructed in 1905 by William Barry Owen on the site of the Crocker Harness Factory, and housed the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank. It was designed by architect J. Williams Beal of Boston. Mindful of the Great Fire of 1883, when every building — 32 houses, 26 stores, and 14 barns — from Main Street to Beach Street burned to the ground, and another in 1899, the bank was built of fieldstone to “assure safety and to symbolize the recovered town,” according to the Dukes County Intelligencer of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
The bank’s distinctive tile roof was also used on Hedge Lee, a nearby Italian-style villa in Vineyard Haven that featured a red tiled roof and white stucco façade, also designed by Mr. Beal. It was built in 1903–04 for millionaire Charles Elmore Whitney of Boston, heir to the Hollingsworth and Whitney paper company. The house has also been associated with the family of writer John Hersey.