The Martha’s Vineyard Commission denied the Hob Knob Inn’s proposed expansion project in a close 7-5 vote Thursday night, following months of public hearings and multiple iterations of the project.
The denial of the development of regional impact (DRI) came after after a lengthy discussion of the benefits and detriments of the Edgartown project, with commissioners Christina Brown, Fred Hancock, Michael Kim, Ben Robinson, Linda Sibley, Ernie Thomas, and Christine Todd voting no, and Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes, Kathy Newman, Douglas Sederholm, Jim Vercruysse, and Joan Malkin voting yes.
Commissioners Ted Rosbeck, Jay Grossman, Jeff Agnoli, and Brian Packish were not eligible to vote on the project because they recently joined the commission. Commissioner Josh Goldstein did not attend enough public hearings on the project to vote.
“I’m not opposed to the expansion of this project,” Todd said. “But I think what’s being proposed is excessive, considering the neighborhood.”
The latest iteration of the project aimed to double the size of the boutique inn by adding two new guest rooms and enlarging the existing spa and fitness room with four new treatment rooms, which would have added 1,450 square feet.
The major portion of the project sought to incorporate 124 Upper Main St., the Tomassian & Tomassian Law building, which doubles as a single-family home. The Tomassian building’s office space would have been removed, and a 4,401-square-foot addition would be added in its place. An existing carriage house would have also been renovated, altogether creating 10 new guest rooms and four new employee rooms for the inn. Nine parking spaces and a lawn area with green space rounded out the proposal.
Sibley said the project was more a question of what the town of Edgartown wants. “I think that should be answered in a town meeting vote to change the zoning,” she said, “rather than creeping commercialism that relies on special permits.”
Before taking the vote to deny the project, commissioners placed several conditions on the project that ultimately became moot. The conditions included: prohibiting weddings, closing the spa to the public, having no food service, and an affordable housing provision. The project would have created employee housing in a basement area, with four two-person rooms plus a lounge area, which the commission approved 8-4.
Brown said the rooms were not living spaces, but simply areas exhausted employees could lie down in, and barely had room to put their clothes.
“It’s much too small. It’s cramped, it’s an embarrassment,” Brown said. “I know that some summer workers live in that kind of space in private homes without any permits or any kind of regulations put on them, but I do not want the commission saying, ‘That’s OK.’ It’s not housing.”
Sederholm said the rooms were too small for year-round housing for two employees each.
Despite denying the overall project, commissioner Ben Robinson said that while the housing component did not meet the commission’s desire for affordable housing, it did accommodate the Hob Knob’s ability to operate housing onsite. He also said there needed to be two window wells installed in the lounge area.
Also, before rejecting the overall project, commissioners added a condition that Hob Knob had to secure MVC approval of a plan to accommodate the loss of the three residential housing units at the Tomassian property, such as buying a housing property.
Barnes, who made the motion to approve the project, said the economic benefit would be a boon for the town. “Everything’s going to be painted white, everything is going to look to the untrained eye like it’s always been there, and by God, it hasn’t really changed much,” Barnes said. “It’s a good plug for the town. It’s bringing in people with a lot of money. Bear in mind we need something to live on. A lot of people are losing track of that.”
But the conditions were moot as commissioners felt the project ultimately was not essential. Over the many months of public hearings on the project, abutters and others opposing the project cited the unnecessary and inappropriate expansion of a commercial business in a residential area.
Sibley said the area was becoming a “string of inns,” and losing the feel of its historic captain’s house character.
“This is essentially a spot zoning change, and that’s a very high bar,” Kim said. “So we need a big benefit to compensate for a series of major detriments … aside from the economic benefit, someone please let me know, what is the benefit to this? There are detriments obviously, but, where’s the benefit?”
Outright denials of projects are rare for the commission, which usually approves projects with strict conditions.
The last DRI the commission denied was the Meeting House place subdivision, which proposed developing a 54-acre parcel with 28 single-family homes and 14 below-market-rate houses.
Hob Knob has the option to appeal the decision to the Superior Court. There is a 20-business-day appeal period on all MVC decisions, for approval or denial. The appeal period opens once the applicant has received the recorded decision. The commission still needs to hold a meeting with a written decision for the project.
In other business, the commission held another round of public hearings for the Harbor View Hotel’s proposed modifications to its main hotel and cottages.
The main modification is to build a 4,625-square-foot spa at the hotel’s Bradley Cottage, featuring seven treatment rooms. The cottage spa is being proposed instead of a 1,620-square-foot spa at the main hotel.
Lynn Allegaert, an abutter of the hotel, asked how such a transformative project could be approved in the residential area. Allegaert played two videos to display the noise level at the hotel in the peak summer season.
“I respectfully urge you to require the hotel to move the bar back to the opposite side of the permitted pool area, eliminate the restaurant nightclub, the lights, fire pits, and lighting of the pergola on the great lawn, and restore peace to our beautiful, quiet, historic, residential neighborhood,” she said.
Sederholm stressed that the commission does not have purview over the pool bar patio, which was never referred to the commission.
Neighbors of the hotel have sought legal action against the hotel for alleged violations of special permits and building permits concerning the pool bar.
But Sederholm said the commission is discussing the pool bar issue with its legal counsel.