In an eleventh hour twist, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted to have the Mill House applicant pay $75,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum during their approval of the controversial project at a contentious meeting Thursday night.
The entire Mill House project was halted amid controversy that the rest of the historic house, built prior to the Revolutionary War, was demolished prematurely. On Monday night, the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) voted to recommend approval of the project to the full commission.
The historic house was demolished in April. The building permit only called for interior demolition, but the builder insisted he was told by then-Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick that he planned to level the deteriorated building. Barwick never referred the project to the MVC until after it was gone, a lapse in the protocol that’s supposed to be followed for Island buildings that are more than 100 years old. The town has since put new protocols in place and Barwick retired after not being reappointed by the board of selectmen as of July 1.
Commissioner Josh Goldstein proposed the applicant pay $75,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to finance exhibits and studies of historical homes and people on the Island.
“When this house was torn down Vineyard Haven lost a huge part of its history. That’s gone, we’re never going to get that back,” Goldstein said. “The amount of money that’s being spent here, I don’t think this is an outrageous sum.”
Goldstein said the MVC’s attorneys could review the condition to determine if it was acceptable before commissioners set it in stone during their written decision.
The $75,000 is on top of the $25,000 Rosbeck offered to donate to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for the creation of a database of Tisbury homes over a 100 years old. Rosbeck will also fund the cost of reprinting the cover page of the Tisbury building permit to add a “year structure built” line in red or bold font.
Together the $100,000 tacked on by the MVC is 1.5 percent of the combined $3.8 million purchase price of the property and $2.9 million in estimated renovations.
“I think it should be denied because there was a blatant disregard for our regulations and there’s no excuse for not knowing the checklist. These are experienced people that have been working on the Island for a long time and they should have known better,” commissioner Jim Vercruysse said.
“There is a value to the loss,” Commissioner Joan Malkin said.
At times, the meeting became contentious between commissioners. Commissioner Trip Barnes voiced a strong opposition to Goldstein’s motion.
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life or heard of and I’m embarrassed to sit with this board,” Barnes said.
Commissioner Linda Sibley called the Mill House demolition a great harm, before Barnes interrupted her. Chairman Douglas Sederholm then slammed his gavel before yelling, “Mr. Barnes, stop it.” Sederholm later apologized for raising his voice.
Barnes continued to repeatedly criticize the $75,000 motion calling the decision “embarrassing” and “trash.”
Commissioner Kathy Newman reminded the board what they were approving.
“I just want to remind everybody that we’re approving the demolition of something that’s already been demolished, there’s a problem with that,” Newman said.
Commissioner James Joyce disagreed with commissioner Ben Robinson’s condition to ban the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) on the exterior of the proposed building.
Joyce argued that PVC is an acceptable building product and would last longer than other alternatives like wood.
Robinson listed several negative impacts PVC has on the environment with its creation and disposal. He said there are higher rates of cancer in people who live downwind from PVC factories and the risk to firefighters who would breathe in dioxides if there was a fire at the home. Robinson argued using wood for exterior work is actually beneficial to the environment because trees grown for the wood absorb carbon dioxide out of the air.
“Saying that PVC is better than wood is speaking out of ignorance really,” Robinson said.
“Excuse me? this is your opinion and I have my opinion,” Joyce said. “Keep your opinions like that to yourself.”
Despite the project coming before the commission several times, commissioner Leon Brathwaite appeared to not know which parts of the building were torn down.
“I thought the original portion of the building was still standing, the historical portions,” he said.
“The oldest portion is gone,” Newman said.
Commissioners also placed other conditions on the project. The mill, which is the only remaining part of the former house, must be preserved and connected to the new home — a reversal from architect Patrick Ahearn’s initial renovations to the mill which called for additional windows.
The applicant must also withdraw its building permit for the barn that sits on the property. The barn must be preserved until its age and use can be reviewed by the MVC.
The new house must also achieve a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 20 or below. The applicant plans to install solar panels at some point. Rosbeck said they would have to come back to the commission because the best place for solar panels is on top of the barn.
Several commissioners hesitated while casting their roll call vote for the project, but the project and its conditions were approved 13-1. Barnes voted no and Sederholm abstained. Sederholm told The Times he abstained because his vote would not have had an effect on the outcome and that no amount of money or conditions would bring back the history destroyed by the applicant.
“That was a 1750 structure. It’s gone forever. I didn’t want to be on record approving the destruction of a 270-year-old structure,” Sederholm wrote in an email to The Times.
After the vote, Harold Chapdelaine, a member of the Tisbury Historical Commission, thanked all involved for coming together to complete the project.
“It’s still representative of community working together,” Chapdelaine said. “We in Tisbury appreciate the work that’s been done here to enhance the historical stature of our buildings in town.”
In other business, commissioners closed the public hearing on the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse & Resource Recovery District (MVRRRD) expansion project. Several abutters have voiced their opposition to the expansion. Don Hatch, MVRRRD manager, and Doug Rice, an engineer with Wright Pierce, came back to the commission with adjustments to the proposal. They shortened the width of the road coming into the facility from 20 feet to 15 feet and presented a redesigned berm that will act as a barrier to neighbors to the south. Rice proposed a six-foot berm with a six-foot tall green concrete wall with foliage to mitigate sound coming from the facility.
Part of the expansion plan calls for a space for composting food waste. MVRRRD is working with Island Grown Initiative (IGI) and their pilot food waste program.
The written record for the project remains open and will head back to the commission for deliberation and decision.
Geoff Rose, owner of Patient Centric, got MVC approval to increase his cultivation space
and the number of employees from nine to 10 in 90 Dr. Fisher Road in West Tisbury. Big Sky Party Tent Rentals is moving out of the building they shared with Rose. Commissioners also agreed it would not need a public hearing. There are no retail sales allowed at the cultivation building. Rose has his sights set on a recreational shop at 15 Mechanic’s St. in Vineyard Haven.
Commissioners will also take up the 54-acre Edgartown subdivision on Sept. 26. LUPC members voted to recommend the full commission deny the project on the grounds that the project involved too much development.
Updated to add comments from Doug Sederholm and Jim Vercruysse. — Ed.