MVC approves Phillips Hardware renovation in Oak Bluffs

Eight units of housing will initially be designated as 'hotel'

This historical view of Circuit Avenue shows a partial view of the Oakwood Hotel, built in 1880, now the site of Phillips Hardware.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) has given its blessing to the proposed renovation and expansion of Phillips Hardware store on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Thursday night, Nov. 3, commissioners voted unanimously and enthusiastically to approve the project as a development of regional impact (DRI).

“Because this is a keystone business in the town of Oak Bluffs, improving this building as a functional store is a huge benefit for the town,” Oak Bluffs commissioner Fred Hancock said. “The benefits highly outweigh the detriments in this project. It’s a great project for the town of Oak Bluffs, it’s a great project for the Island. We need to do more mixed-use projects in our downtown areas.”

Owners Donna Leon and Susan Phillips plan to have the existing 8,500-square-foot building demolished and replaced with a three-story, 18,000-square-foot mixed-use building, with eight “top-of-the-shop” apartments.

The project was reviewed by the MVC as a DRI for three reasons — it’s a commercial mixed-use building over 3,000 square feet; it requires demolition in a commercial district; and the building is over 100 years old.
Part of the store was originally built as the Oakwood Hotel in 1880.

The original plan for the “top of the shop” housing, presented to the MVC in September, was to build four two-bedroom and four one-bedroom apartments. Although the wastewater commission had already approved the 12 bedrooms, current town zoning bylaw limits the project to only three apartments. The “Conversion of Existing Three-Story Building to Apartment Units” bylaw states that an existing three-story building “may be converted to apartments with a maximum of three apartments for the first 5,000 square feet of lot area, and one additional apartment unit for each additional 1,000 square feet of lot area.”

“Three apartments with 12 beds doesn’t make any sense,” architect Chuck Sullivan told the commission at the September DRI hearing.

To keep the renovation moving forward, the application was changed, for the time-being, to ‘hotel use,’ which will allow the eight units to be built as designed, but would limit the term of their rental to six months per calendar year.

Mr. Sullivan told the commission the hope is that the current town by-law will be amended at town meeting this April to allow the apartments to be considered year-round, workforce and affordable housing.

If and when the by-law is changed, the affordable housing component of Thursday’s decision will have to be re-reviewed by the MVC.

Next, the project will go before the Oak Bluffs Planning Board (OBPB) for site plan review, most likely in December, according to OBPB chairman Brian Packish.

Commissioners Jim Joyce (Edgartown) Abe Seiman (Oak Bluffs) Christine Brown (Edgartown), and Ben Robinson (Tisbury) did not vote because they were not at the prior DRI public hearing.