What happens when you defy the MVC?

The Island’s regional planning imposes fine on reconstruction of historic home.

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Developers of this house on Franklin Street in Vineyard Haven violated an order not to use PVC. - Lexi Pline

Updated at 2:35 pm

The permitted demolition and reconstruction of a historic Vineyard Haven home came under the scrutiny of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday night after the developer of the home violated conditions on the development of regional impact (DRI) application.

The former home, which sat at the corner of Franklin Street and Center Street, was built around 1850 in a Greek Revival farmhouse style. The home was owned by the Luce family before the Look family bought and owned it for many years.

Developers William Westman and Cees Van Ejik got permission to raze the house and built a new one in its place. Van Eijk purchased the dilapidated home in 2016 for $335,000. The estimated cost of construction for the project was $250,000 plus $60,000 for installing the foundation, according to building records. Despite not being within the Williams Street Historic District (WSHD) or on the Massachusetts Historic Commission site, Van Eijk and Westman met with the historical commission to discuss construction.

The MVC approved the project for demolition and reconstruction, but gave strict guidelines for how it was to be rebuilt, and what materials could be used. One of those guidelines required the building’s exterior to be natural wood and not polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

“Well, guess what? They went ahead and used PVC,” commissioner Richard Toole said.

Despite a clear violation of the application, the MVC felt the best course of action was allowing the PVC to remain, but requiring the developer to pay $30,000 to $50,000 — the sum of money estimated to be the cost of removing and disposing of the PVC, then installing natural wood trim — to a building database fund. The developers made the monetary offer to the commission based on an outside consultant’s report, which pegged that amount at 5 to 7 percent of the overall cost to purchase and renovate the property.

Speaking to The Times Friday, Westman said he forgot about the mandate when he subcontracted the work out. As soon as he realized PVC was being used, he halted construction.

“It was just a mistake … it wasn’t my intention to do it,” Westman said. “I can’t blame anyone but myself.”

The fund would make the MVC’s records easily readable and accessible to building officials. It would also help in the MVC’s efforts to get all buildings over 100 years old surveyed. 

Some commissioners were not satisfied with the fine, and felt it would send a message to developers that they can ignore the MVC.

“It sort of says, We set stipulations down and you don’t do it, and we don’t do anything about it,” commissioner Kathy Newman said. “I’m just concerned about what that says, that somebody can take down a historic building, put it up, not follow the directions, and there it stands on a pretty prominent corner with this false material.”

Commissioner Ben Robinson, a Tisbury MVC representative, said the damage was done when the PVC was purchased.

“It’s done, it’s on the building. The worst thing we can do is make them take it off and waste more materials putting new stuff up,” Robinson said. 

Other commissioners agreed, and said future violations could have more strict consequences. “This is a onetime thing. We’re not going to allow monetary mitigation for someone building a building 30 feet higher than they’re supposed to, or some other disregard to our conditions,” commissioner Jim Vercruysse said. “People can’t think they can just ignore our conditions and then pay a few dollars to mitigate it.”

While some commissioners were happy with the fine, others felt the real issue is a lack of oversight.

“We are at fault for this happening — not the contractor. We are at fault because nobody has put a system in place to check what we put in our document to make sure it didn’t happen,” commissioner Leon Braithwaite said.

In other business, the expansive Edgartown subdivision project between Meetinghouse Way and Meshacket Road will head back to the drawing board five months after the project first came to the commission.

The updated project significantly changes the building lots, going from three clusters of homes into two. Additional homes have been added, but some have been turned into townhouses. The new open-space footprint is lowered by three acres, but is contained to an entire side of the property, as opposed to the “wildlife corridors” the project previously had.

“It’s pretty much a new project,” Turner said. “We’re going to do it as if they withdrew it, and we’re starting again.”

The commission will continue its review of the project on August 22.

The commission gave final approval to the Verizon tower project that proposes to raise the height of a tower on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road by 55 feet.

Updated to add comments from William Westman. — Ed.