Master plan needed for Harbor View


To the Editor:

Thanks to the Gazette for highlighting the critical issue of commercial creep on our Island. Their call to deny the request by the Harbor View Hotel for a large spa expansion and instead demand an updated master plan is a good place to start. 

Indeed, those who live around the Harbor View Hotel have been asking for a “master plan” to avoid the piecemeal review that has occurred since the first, and last, comprehensive review of the Harbor View in 2008. The Harbor View has deviated from this original plan several times, 

increasing the commercialization each time. Often, these changes have been small enough to fly under the radar when looked at alone, but when taken together, a significant change in character and scale has occurred over a relatively short period of time. 

These changes — this “creeping commercialization” — matter because the Harbor View Hotel lies within a residential zone under the Edgartown zoning bylaws. When the voters of Edgartown decided to implement zoning bylaws, the Harbor View Hotel was allowed to continue its operation as a hotel because, although a nonconforming commercial use within a residential zone, it is a pre-existing use. In return for this legacy status, however, the hotel cannot deviate from or expand that legacy historic use, either in character or scale. In addition, the hotel is subject to two specific special zoning permits from 1990 and 1992 that very carefully circumscribe commercial activities that are allowed and not allowed. 

The Harbor View benefits tremendously from its legacy location, surrounded by historic homes and the Edgartown Lighthouse and beach, which belong to us all. As such, the hotel must respect the fact that it is located within a residential zone, local authorities must be courageous enough to enforce the zoning bylaws, and the MVC should recognize that the hotel benefits from the very character of the neighborhood that its creeping commercialization threatens. Yes, many of the neighbors acquired their homes knowing they were located near the hotel; but for their part, the recent owners of the hotel acquired their interest in the hotel knowing it was located in a residential zone. 

Approximately 70 year-round and summer residents alike have written to the MVC to express their dismay at the hotel’s changes over recent years. The Harbor View has built additional rooms without permission. The Harbor View has not yet paid an affordable housing mitigation fee. The Harbor View has built an outdoor bar and restaurant without MVC approval. The Harbor View has used the residential home across the street (which is under the same ownership) as an ancillary to the hotel. Enough. The Harbor View Hotel needs a master plan that respects its legacy status, and not a plan that continually pushes the envelope of its historic use. 

Both Edgartown and the hotel’s successes stem from the careful and thoughtful growth of generations past. That success is all too easy to destroy — forever — by allowing untethered commercial growth in a residential zone. 


Jim Swartz