The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed out the public hearing for modifications to the Harbor View Hotel, leaving the written record open for two more weeks. The hearing was the fourth for the project.
The company proposes to build a 4,625-square-foot spa at the hotel’s Bradley Cottage with seven treatment rooms, instead of building a 1,620-square-foot spa at the main hotel. The Bradley Cottage rooms would be reduced from 12 to four, and a room would be added at the Pease Cottage. There are no net changes to the rooms, since eight rooms are added to the main hotel and the Pease Cottage and eight rooms removed from the Bradley Cottage.
After listening to concerns from neighbors, the hotel is restricting the spa to registered guests of the hotel. Registered guests can have up to two members of the public join them at the spa. The spa would provide massage, image consulting, hair styling, manicures, and pedicures. Construction would take place in fall 2021, and be finished by spring 2023.
Thursday night’s hearing was the fourth the commission has held for the project. Commissioners heard from several members of the public, including some who have previously voiced their opposition to the modifications.
Portions of the project have already been built per previous modification approvals, some dating from 2008. These include increasing the main hotel building from 36 to 40 rooms, and increasing the Mayhew Cottage from 48 to 51 rooms.
Commissioner Fred Hancock said the hotel should look at making an increased affordable housing payment. During the 2008 modification approval, the hotel agreed to pay a $111,000 payment upon completion of the project. “It would seem to me that in the resulting years it would go a long way if the applicant made at least a progress payment on that amount, which I think is still small compared to what we would ask for today,” Hancock said. “To still have it hanging on from 2008, I think, is a little outrageous.”
At the request of commissioner Douglas Sederholm, commission staff will review the affordable housing contribution for the built portions of the 2008 approval and a contribution under its current policy for the unbuilt portions of the hotel’s project.
Attorney Marilyn Vukota, who represents the Harbor View, said the hotel has made more than $100,000 in improvements to the property at the behest of the neighbors, including installing 67-foot tall arborvitae trees, installing 200 feet of new wood fencing, moving an emergency generator, purchasing a new trash compactor and baler, and moving trash to the main building, installing vegetative screening behind the Mayhew building, and replacing a broken sidewalk at the driveway entrance of a Fuller Street neighbor.
Vukota also referred to the proposed modifications as “de minimis.”
Commissioner Kathy Newman disagreed with the use of de minimis. “We have a bunch of neighbors here who don’t think it’s de minimis,” Newman said. “I would feel much better if the hotel said, ‘We get you, we’re going to keep an eye on it.’”
Dale Hamson, a seasonal Edgartown resident, supported the expansion. “The current request that they have for the amenities is going to let them remain competitive for the sophisticated clientele I think the Vineyard is looking for, and which I believe we want,” he said.
Hotel neighbor Joe Wargo reiterated a request for the hotel leadership to sit down and meet with neighbors to go over concerns and plans. “What people are complaining about is the death by a thousand cuts,” Wargo said. “Where is the master plan? … No one on this commission knows what’s next. That’s the problem with granting this application in a vacuum. So I would respectfully suggest it’s your duty to consider not only what’s happened since 2008, but what may happen later. It is your duty to consider that. That’s what people are referring to when they’re talking about piecemeal. Piecemeal means disgruntled neighbors, crime, violence, nuisance.”
Robert Forrester pleaded with commissioners to look at the wider implications of approving the hotel’s modification. “It’s about the character of our Island that we’re dealing with. I ask you to keep that in mind. It’s not as specific as a spa,” Forrester said.
Amanda Philips, a seasonal Chappaquiddick resident and daughter of a hotel abutter, said she opposed the modifications, and asked the commission to consider the hotel’s “larger actions.”
“The owner’s actions demonstrate consistent escalation of negative impact,” she said. “There’s been this sort of piecemeal feel to the project … it’s sort of a creeping expansion.”
Vukota said public hearings have been neighbor-centric, and there has been little discussion of protecting commercial properties. “I understand the neighbors have their concerns, but commercial properties are a dying breed on Martha’s Vineyard. At least a dozen properties or more in and around Edgartown have been converted from commercial properties to residential properties,” she said citing the Daggett House, the former Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the Vermont Shop, the Chiverick, Dr. Nevin’s office, and others.
“This concern about chipping away at the character of the area or the community or the Island — you also have to look at the impact on chipping away at the commercial endeavors on Martha’s Vineyard. There is a very real, legitimate, residential creep,” Vukota said.
She added that residential creep isn’t noticeable since permits or permissions are not required, but for commercial expansions they are.
“If the Harbor View isn’t permitted to grow with the times, then it’s going to fail,” Vuokta said. “This isn’t an expansion, this is an evolution, this is an improvement … If these things aren’t protected, Martha’s Vineyard is going to be like a Monte Carlo where only the super-duper, duper rich can buy property, and the town center’s will be dwindled down to nothing.”