The Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved modifications to the Harbor View Hotel’s development of regional impact (DRI) in a 9-5 vote Thursday night, which will allow the hotel to build a new spa.
In a three and half hour meeting, deliberation on the spa was eclipsed by lengthy discussions about commercial expansion, the Island’s character, and the project’s piecemeal approvals.
Approval came after several months and four public hearings with several conditions such as restricting the spa to hotel guests only with all charges going to hotel rooms, a private home on 119 North Water St. only being used for hotel business with commission approval, and the hotel providing the commission with a five-year master plan and plans for the property to go all-electric. Additionally, the hotel must present a plan for its controversial pool bar which is part of an ongoing legal battle between the hotel and its neighbors. Further, the Harbor View has to pay a total of $517,000 for affordable housing mitigation for the Bradley Cottage spa and other cottages.
The commission also required that the hotel use its “best efforts” to form a neighborhood preservation committee. The committee is to include all interested hotel abutters within a 600-foot radius. Those outside can join the committee if approved by the chair.
Abutters have vehemently opposed the project sending dozens of letters to the commission and voicing criticism of the expansion at the project’s multiple public hearings.
The final vote had one abstention with commissioners Clarence “Trip” Barnes III, Josh Goldstein, Michael Kim, Ted Rosbeck, Douglas Sederholm, Linda Sibley, Ernie Thomas, and chair Joan Malkin voting in favor of the project. Commissioners Jeff Agnoli, Fred Hancock, Kathy Newman, Ben Robinson, and Chirstine Todd voted against. Commissioner Jim Vercrussye was the one abstention vote. “I was hoping the applicant would see a possible denial as a stick to work with the neighbors because they have legitimate concerns and it’s clear they feel like they haven’t been heard,” Vercrussye said of his abstention.
The commissioners who voted yes were split on why they approved the project. Some said their yes votes came reluctantly. “My reluctance to vote yes is because I felt like we don’t have a basis in the confines of this decision to help the abutters as much as I know we would like to have,” Malkin said.
Barnes said the Harbor View has been an important part of the Island community and defended the project’s expansion. “I’m going to vote for this because it seems to me madness to deny it,” Sibley said. “But…I do think that this hotel, which I’ve known for 70 years, is morphing into something that isn’t particularly Vineyard. Do you want to attract people by saying we’ve got spas? Or do you want to attract people by saying we’ve got pristine beaches and woods?”
“The Vineyard’s changed, it’s not going back to what it was,” Barnes said. “Let’s wake up and give the guy a hand for Christ’s sake.”
Commissioner Ben Robinson said the commission needed to look at the project through a wider lens and its impacts on the Island.
“Yes, our economy needs to be supported, but we need to understand that endless growth is going to be a detriment to this Island, it already is,” Robinson said. “Our normal year-round community is being forced off the Island because of it. Tourism is not going out of business anytime soon on Martha’s Vineyard.”
One of the largest hotels on the Island, the Harbor View’s modification requests come after two ownership changes and a fire in one of its buildings over the past 10 years. Bernard Chiu, the current owner, purchased the hotel in 2018 before a complete renovation of the property.
Thursday’s approval allows the hotel to build a 4,625-square-foot spa at the hotel’s Bradley Cottage with seven treatment rooms, instead of building a previously approved 1,620-square-foot spa at the main hotel. The Bradley Cottage rooms will 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.
Portions of the project have already been built per previous modification approvals, some dating back to 2008. These include increasing the main hotel building from 36 to 40 rooms, and increasing the Mayhew Cottage from 48 to 51 rooms.
“Maybe they’ll see that it’s a reluctant yes,” Newman said of the hotel. “Maybe they should do something about that.”