MVC closes Mill Square public hearing

Athletic fields written decision approved.

The Mill Square home in Oak Bluffs, shown during an MVC Zoom meeting. The project aims to replace the home with a similar, but energy efficient and structurally sound year-round home.

Updated 2:55 pm 

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed out the public hearing for a historic demolition at 19 Mill Square Road in Oak Bluffs.

The property owner seeks to demolish an existing historic home and build a larger, four-bedroom, 3.5-story residence in a similar style. The home is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS). It was built around 1898 as a seasonal dwelling. It’s considered significant as part of the Vineyard Highlands, an alternative to the Wesleyan Grove Campground. The house was also the former home of a “learning institute.”

The Oak Bluffs Historic District Commission reviewed the project in 2020 and determined the home was not historically significant.

At a meeting Thursday, the commission heard from the homeowner and architects about the deteriorated state of the building and their plans for a new home.

Owner Abby Sage read a statement to commissioners, saying she and her husband have longtime ties to the Vineyard, and want to build a generational, year-round home.

“I’m not someone who would buy a beautiful historic home just to rip it down and build a McMansion for rent,” Sage said. “It has no insulation, the structure does not have a proper foundation, it sits on tree stumps and brick piles. When it rains, the water floods inside from the roof down throughout.”

She said to bring the home, which has undergone several updates through the years, up to standard safety codes, extensive rehabilitation would need to be done on the windows, foundation, doors, plumbing, insulation, and electrical wiring. 

The commission has seen several historic demolition applications this year. One applicant pulled an application after the commission voted to review it as a development of regional impact. The commission is retroactively reviewing another historic home in Oak Bluffs post-demolition, after initially claiming the home did not need to be reviewed.

Travis Blake, a designer at Boston-based Sousa Design Architects, showed commissioners his analysis of the home’s condition. “The structural analysis showed that there are too many deficiencies in the framing and supports, as we previously outlined, to render the use of the building economically feasible.”

Blake also shared a letter from Brian Lane, an Island contractor, who said the structure could not be updated to current code without astronomical costs.

The proposed home was designed to keep with many of the elements of the historic structure, such as the cross-gabled and low-profile roof and cedar shake siding. Any exterior material, such as railings and columns, that can be saved will be reused in the proposed home.

Joan and William Damora, who live next door to the property, told commissioners they fully support the project. “We feel it supports the culture and the ambiance of the current environment around here,” Joan Damora said. “We find that their plans are going to be wonderful for us personally.”

Commissioner Brian Packish recused himself from the vote, and instead spoke as a member of the public. Packish said he supported the project as well, and praised the owners for coming to the commission even though they were issued a demolition permit by the building department.

“The applicant, rather than run out with their demo permit in hand, chose to not run out and tear their building down as quickly as possible, as we’ve seen in other circumstances. Coming back, hat in hand, saying, ‘Well the building’s gone, what do we do now?’” Packish said. “I think folks that do that should be penalized, and I think folks that see the process, follow the process, whatever challenges arise, should be commended for that.”

Barbara Baskin, a member of the Oak Bluffs historic commission, said she voted against the project being not historically significant, and said there are ways to repair historic homes. “The building obviously needs maintenance, it needs a new roof, as well as many other issues you can all see in the photos, but it is not derelict,” she said. 

A motion to retain an independent consultant to advise the commission on the architectural continuity of the home was shot down 9-3. Commissioner Fred Hancock said the proposed structure was not like the other buildings in the area. 

In other business, the commission also gave written approval for modifications to the Harbor View Hotel. The project was approved in July, and allows the hotel to build a 4,625-square-foot spa at the hotel’s Bradley Cottage with seven treatment rooms, and finalizes other changes made to the hotel’s footprint. Approval included a suite of 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. being used only 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.

After weeks of edits and revisions, the commission voted 10-3 with two abstentions to approve the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School athletic fields project’s written decision.

Approval for the written decision comes after several meetings of deliberation between board members to put the final touches on the document. 

The project, which will construct a synthetic turf field at the high school, was approved 10-6 in June.

Commission chair Joan Malkin, who voted against the project, said the six dissenting commissioners will file a “minority report.”

“I think this is the first time in the commission’s history that dissenting commissioners have filed a minority report, and we did so because we believe the DRI was unique and uniquely important to the Island, and we wanted to explain an alternative rationale and highlight some of the weaknesses in the commission’s majority decision,” Malkin said.

The dissenting commissioners have five days after the written decision meeting to file a minority report, according to MVC bylaws.

She added that the dissenting commissioners remained in support of the approval vote. Malkin herself voted in favor of the written decision, but clarified her vote did not mean she had changed her mind about the project. Commissioners Jeff Agnoli, Ben Robinson, and Christine Todd were the three votes against the written decision. Commissioners Jay Grossman and Kathy Newman abstained.

Updated with deadline for minority report. — Ed.