O.B. cites concerns with housing site

Selectmen oppose Uncas Avenue project in letter to state.

Oak Bluffs Selectmen Jason Balboni, left, and Brian Packish, right, discuss the proposed Uncas Ave project. — Brian Dowd

Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously approved a letter to be sent to the Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MassHousing) outlining the board’s opposition to a comprehensive permit for a mixed-use project at 3 Uncas Ave.

The project seeks site approval for and financing with MassHousing. Comprehensive permits are permits for the development of low- or moderate-income housing under Chapter 40B — a state statute that allows affordable housing developments under flexible rules if a quarter of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. The comprehensive permit allows developers to bypass certain municipal zoning bylaws. 

Developer and affordable housing advocate Robert Sawyer wants to demolish an existing four-bedroom historic house with an abutting one-bedroom cottage and replace it with a 3,750-square-foot mixed-use building. It would include eight residential studio condos, at 425 square feet each, a 350-square-foot drive-through bank, and a parking lot. Two of the condos would be designated for affordable housing. 

While two condos would be designated affordable housing by state definitions, Sawyer previously told The Times he plans for all the condos to be workforce housing.

Selectmen agreed the project is consistent with the town’s housing production plan (HPP) and its comprehensive master plan, both of which encourage the creation of affordable housing, but were concerned with the “grossly incomplete” application.

“Do I like the bank idea? No,” selectman Brian Packish said. “Would I like to see eight units downtown? … Yes, I would.”

In their letter, selectmen detailed concerns brought up at their last meeting, when they discussed the project, such as the historic 1874 home being listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), its location in the Cottage City Historic District, the Copeland District, and the district of critical planning concern created by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Selectmen also have concerns with the drive-through bank in a residential zone.

“While the town may be prepared to entertain additional housing density from the current zoning to promote the creation of affordable housing, the inclusion of a commercial drive-in at that busy location with completely inadequate queuing geometry would be a vast mistake that would worsen congestion, create a public safety traffic hazard, and be completely inconsistent with the historic village character of the area,” the letter states. “The site is simply not appropriate for any drive-up use, and would not work with the character and configuration of either the site or the neighborhood.”

Selectmen then altered wording in the last sentence from “for these reasons the board urges your negative determination on the suitability of the site for the development as proposed” to “for these reasons the board does not find that this is a suitable site for the development as proposed.”

“I don’t, as one selectman, think it should go forward the way it’s designed or as proposed,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “It’s just not suitable.”

Selectman Jason Balboni said if there were a different application with only affordable housing units and no bank drive-through, things might be different. “But that’s not what we’re looking at,” Balboni said.

If the project moves forward as a 40B, the town would lose out on input and possible conditions, since the state would take charge. Parks commissioner Amy Billings, who opposes the project, felt no effort was made to preserve the historic home and make it into affordable housing, and that Sawyer went straight to a 40B application.

Packish disagreed, saying things would have been different if Sawyer was approved for a special permit, but Sawyer was denied at town meeting and by the planning board. “Quite honestly I see it as a shortfall in our own process that has produced this 40B. That is just my personal feeling,” Packish said.


  1. Sawyer and 40B will win. Packish is right — the planning board and town meeting denied him a special permit. He had no choice but to go to the state.

  2. Please note I speak about 3 Uncas Ave as an abutter NOT as Park Commissioner. Anyone commenting on this project needs to read the application and know the history. Changing this property from residential to B1 was voted down at town meeting because that’s what the town wanted. There was no guarantee that it would have been affordable housing once changed. A perfectly solid ( yes needs major renovation now) historic home is in danger of being lost if the developer is allowed to move forward with his plan. Is a 400sq.ft studio selling for 275,000. + HOA fees and utilities considered “workforce” priced housing ? Please read the application then help me see what make sense about this development in this location. ( the application should be on the town’s website ) This historic Oak Bluffs home was occupied in the summer of 2018 and every summer previously. As for the bank listed in the plan, No bank has publicly come forward saying they are on board to be in this location as part of this project ?? I am not interested in a q&a here – read the application and history of the proposed project. Amy Billings

Comments are closed.

Previous articleNo more denying it
Next articleSchool adopts Brazilian custom of Children’s Day