The Mill House drama in Vineyard Haven is now playing off-Island in the community of Weston, where Lise Revers, the property owner, lives and owns a horse stable known as Beechwood Stables.
Revers is an opponent of a proposed Chapter 40B project near her horse farm property, and in an email to Weston selectmen claims the project developer is attempting to “defame her” with regard to the historic house in Vineyard Haven being razed without going before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission or town boards. Chapter 40B is a state statute that allows projects with an affordable housing component under flexible zoning rules.
Patrick Ahearn, the Edgartown architect who drew up plans for the replacement at 29 Mill House Way, wrote a letter dated May 6 to the Weston planning board in support of Revers.
Ahearn’s letter states that Revers had no knowledge that the building would be completely razed. The original building application called for “interior demolition.”
In a brief interview with The Times, Revers said she was unaware the Mill House was being completely demolished.
“The only parts of the house deemed historic were the mill tower and a small portion of the original cape façade,” Ahearn wrote. “The mill tower has been preserved in its entirety, and the small portion of the original cape will be replicated.”
Ahearn makes no mention of who made the call on the history, but points the finger at Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick for authorizing the demolition. Ahearn did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
While ultimately taking responsibility for what happened, Barwick reiterated Monday that he never gave permission for exterior demolition of the house. “I’m holding my ground with the demolition that it was only for the interior,” Barwick said. “Nobody is more sensitive to the history of Tisbury than me.”
Barwick said he feels like he’s been thrown under the bus, but that it’s something he’s used to in his job. “If I had heard [exterior] demolition, the red lights would have started flashing,” he said.
In another letter sent by Revers to Weston officials, Ahearn wrote that the project was not referred to the commission by Barwick because only 1,375 square feet of the structure was built prior to 1900. “The mill portion of the structure is 925 SF constructed prior to 1900, and the portion of the structure deemed the remnants of the original Cape was 445 SF constructed prior to 1900,” Ahearn wrote. “Therefore, 67 percent of the structure constructed prior to 1900 remains. The threshold for review by the M.V. Commission is that if 50 percent of the historic portion of the structure constructed prior to 1900 was to be demolished [then] the project should be forwarded to the M.V. Commission for comment or review. This is simply not the case.”
Written history of the project shows the house and the mill were not built at the same time. The mill was built elsewhere and moved to the location, according to an interview with a previous owner in “More Vineyard Voices” by Linsey Lee.
In interviews with The Times and at a Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting May 2, Adam Turner, the commission’s executive director, made it clear that a building’s historical importance is a call that the commission makes, not the local building inspector or the contractors involved.
“This is a major deal. This is an historic house; Revolutionary War activities happened in this location, and then somebody went around our regulations to demolish it and made sure there was nothing we would be able to do about it,” Turner said. “It’s pretty distressing.”
In an email Monday, Turner wrote that the commission is still gathering information, and has not yet scheduled a hearing.
Melinda Loberg, chair of the Tisbury board of selectmen, said the town will wait to see how that plays out with the commission. Loberg said it may be time for a change in how the town handles historic buildings.
“This is happening more times than is comfortable,” she said. “Anything that is over 100 years old is to be referred to the commission. That hasn’t worked perfectly.”
The town will look to get the bottom of what happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again, Loberg said.
“This modification to the original building permit was authorized by the building inspector and followed by the contractor,” Ahearn wrote. “Under the directive of the building inspector, the preserved mill tower will be incorporated with the rest of the project. All in accordance with the building permit and plans approved by the town.”
Barwick would not comment directly on Ahearn’s letters before reviewing them again. He added that he has not talked to Ahearn about this project since it got underway.
There is nothing in the building department’s file that shows Barwick authorized a change. The original application has “demolition” checked off, but the written reference is to “interior demolition.”
While Barwick said the building was “failing,” he has since issued a stop-work order at the site, and referred the entire project to the MVC. Barwick was off-Island attending to a family matter when the demolition occurred.
Peter Rosbeck, the building contractor on the project, has not returned repeated calls and emails seeking comment. He is listed as an alternate on Edgartown’s Historic District Commission.
Meanwhile, Tisbury selectmen have received a packet of documents from someone who chooses to remain anonymous. The packet includes the number of properties Revers owns in Weston, the assessors’ records for those properties, totaling more than $27 million, and some minutes from town zoning meetings that show the Vineyard Haven incident is not the first time a Revers-involved project has included doing work prior to obtaining permits on a historically sensitive property. In Weston, she and her then-husband Dan Revers, a principal with Arclight Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in energy projects, replaced 400 feet of a stone wall on their property at 412 Highland St. without the proper permits. In a separate project, 42 trees were taken down that weren’t included in the original site plan that was approved, according to town records.
In the case of the stone wall, Weston records indicate 412 Highland St. is one of the most historically significant locations in Weston “because of its age, intact exterior architectural detailing, and pastoral setting, including the original barn.”
Town zoning board documents show work was done to repair and rebuild the stone wall along the property line before getting approval because “the petitioner did not realize that there was permitting necessary for the wall until so advised by the building inspector.” The permit was ultimately approved after the work was done.
Revers did not return calls or emails seeking comment on the work done in Weston or her opposition to the Chapter 40B project there. She spoke out against it as recently as a Monday, May 6, selectmen’s meeting, according to a community television recording of that meeting.
Weston selectmen have reviewed an initial proposal for a 275-unit project, and are gathering the community’s comments, which will be submitted to MassHousing, Leon Gaumond Jr., Weston’s town manager, told The Times. “They’re looking for their Willy Wonka golden ticket to begin the hearing process,” Gaumond said.
Harvey Boshart, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he was surprised to receive the email from Revers about the controversy surrounding her Martha’s Vineyard property. “I hadn’t heard anything about. Wasn’t that concerned about it. And I don’t know how it relates to anything going on in Weston,” Boshart told The Times. “I don’t know how it applies.”
In a follow-up message, he said it appears to be an “attempt by a developer or by someone to smear [Revers] in Weston” with regard to her project opposition. “We kind of see through that, and don’t see how it applies to anything that’s going on up here,” he said. “We have very little control over 40B process to begin with.”
There are some interesting Island and Weston connections. Jonathan Buchman, a seasonal resident of Edgartown, owns the property where the Chapter 40B project is proposed.
Ahearn, another Edgartown seasonal resident, lives in Wellesley Hills, and has done extensive work in the neighboring town of Weston, according to his website.