New variety of comments for ‘Old Variety Store’

Public hearing for historic, but dilapidated, building draws large crowd.

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Cottage City Historic District Commissioners continue to discuss plans for "Old Variety Store."

Updated Jan. 11

After reviewing design plans and listening to feedback from the public, members of the Cottage City Historic District Commission voted to continue the public hearing for the demolition and reconstruction of the derelict building at 10 Oak Bluffs Ave. — known as the Old Variety Store — that abuts Flying Horses Carousel.

After failing to notify abutters in time at their last meeting, the commission opened their first meeting of the new year to a packed room Wednesday with the first of what commission chair Phil Regan expects to be several public hearings.

The 0.04 acre property was purchased by Joseph Moujabber, a co-owner of Nancy’s restaurant, in December 2017, for $700,000. Moujabber hired engineer George Sourati and architect Ethan McMorrow to design a new structure for the downtown location.

The proposed design calls for the demolition of the existing building and the construction of a two-story structure that would match the aesthetic of the surrounding Oak Bluffs architecture. The first floor would be a commercial space and the second floor would be a one-bedroom apartment.

The design saw some pushback from members of the community, many of whom felt connected to the building and wanted to see it maintained. The building, which has been there for over a century, has housed several shops over the years before falling into disrepair.

Oak Bluffs resident Renee Balter said the building was important to her and she would like to see it replicated exactly as it is.

“It’s the heart of downtown,” she said. “It’s a work of art.”

Doug Ulwick, an architect, feared tearing down the building would set a precedent, that developers could buy properties, let them rot, then tear them down.

“My fear is it’s just going to be Disney,” he said of demolishing the decades-old building then building a new structure in its place. “It’s not preservation.”

With each voice of disapproval, there was a one of support.

Bert Combra, and 81-year-old who has lived on the Island his entire life, said he could remember buying penny candy and “the best Orange Crush soda” at the building when he was 8 years old, but much like the Tivoli Building that was torn down for a new town hall, Combra said it was time for a change and he supported the new design.

“Everything changes,” Combra said. “This building — I’m surprised it’s still up — I’ve been inside there a few times and I said, ‘Hey, I’m getting the hell out of here.’ This building is rotten, there’s no foundations under it, I mean it’s terrible.”

Combra added that Moujabber does “first class work” and his project would only be a good thing for the town.

“It’s not going to affect my life. It’s not going to affect anybody’s life,” he said.

Mark Wallace, owner of Jim’s Package Store, said no one cares more about the area than Moujabber and that the inside of the building is a “horror show.”

“I can honestly say [Moujabber] doesn’t screw around with doing what he says he’s going to do,” Wallace said.

Several other people in the audience took turns during the public hearing to say they supported the new design, including Funi Burdick, executive director of the Vineyard Trust, which owns Flying Horses. Burdick said she was in support of the design, including its second-story apartment.

The apartment — which would put the building’s peak at 24 feet and seven inches — concerned some residents who felt it would take away from the Flying Horses building and disrupt views.

Commissioners seemed similarly split over the apartment.

Commissioner Barbara Baskin said she liked the majority of the design, but not the second floor which she felt was not “palatable.” Commissioner Denby Olcott also did not want a second floor.

Commissioner Shelley Christensen said she was not opposed to a second story. Regan and commissioner Matt Cramer wanted to continue to review the proposal.

Regan said the goal is to save as much of the main kiosk as they can and let it be “the storyteller on that corner.”

Preservation of the existing building was another concern. The commission asked how much of the building could be reused and repurposed. McMorrow and Sourati said they would do their best to preserve the building’s brackets, but most of the building was in such a deteriorated state it would be difficult to use.

Some of the outside signage will be saved and possibly repurposed for the inside of the building.

Commissioners decided to continue the hearing so they could continue to study the design plans.

The hearing will continue at the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 13 at 5 pm in the Oak Bluffs library meeting room.