The Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved an updated policy regarding the preservation of historic structures on Thursday evening. The policy, presented to the board by commissioner Fred Hancock, cites Chapter 831 of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Act of 1977 as Amended and “seeks to preserve the Island’s unique historical and cultural values that may be threatened and irreversibly damaged by inappropriate development.”
The policy states “historic buildings on Martha’s Vineyard should be preserved to the greatest extent possible,” and highlights alternatives to building demolition — preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, relocation, and reconstruction.
This follows recent retroactive demolition proposals, which are often met with hardly any penalty, a sentiment elaborated on by commissioner Ernie Thomas, an advocate of enforcing the policy. On the absurdity of voting on a retroactive demolition of a house, Thomas said, “[Homeowners] just tear it down, come to us and say, ‘I’m sorry, we tore it down,’ and then [the commission] has to vote on whether they can tear it down or not.”
The policy states conditions that will have to be met in order for demolition approval, such as considerations of the alternatives, in-depth research outlining the history of the property, and whether the property is listed in MACRIS (Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System). Additionally, the policy speaks to whether the structure is found to be of historical significance, and to what extent, along with a rating system to determine regional impact.
The policy was approved in a 13-1 vote, with one abstention by commissioner Trip Barnes. The one dissenting vote was from commissioner Brian Smith, who said the subjectivity of historical significance makes regulations and guidelines less black-and-white.
Additionally, the MVC continued its public hearing on the expansion and gut renovation of the EduComp building in Vineyard Haven, a proposal brought before the commission by building owner Xerxes Agassi. At the commission’s last discussion of the redevelopment project on April 14, concerns were raised by numerous commissioners regarding the wording of the draft lease, which would essentially allow the building units to be rented at market rate or as short-term rentals.
Agassi returned to the commission Thursday with clarifications and slight amendments to the proposal in response to MVC members’ comments, including addressing the draft lease language and the management of a cherry tree in front of the building.
The amended draft rental agreement cites nine units for leasing with restrictions. The restricted units “shall be for an initial term of no less than six months,” with the exception of “prior written consent.” Additionally, the restrictions will limit the nine units for “not less than one week’s duration, and not more than three times in a calendar year” — leaving a loophole for renting units on a short-term basis.
In addition to the nine restricted units, the building will consist of one income-restricted workforce unit and one affordable unit, both of which Agassi said will be similarly restricted. Three unrestricted units open to being either sold or leased at market rate are also included.
Agassi said his intention is to limit short-term rentals of the units, with the exception of the three unrestricted units to “help balance” revenue from affordable rentals.
An EduComp abutter, attorney Erik Hammarlund, took issue with the rental agreements, pointing out that enforcement of the conditions could be difficult. He highlighted the wording of the draft lease, pointing out the “initial term” of restricted rentals, as stated in the agreement shall be “no less than six months.” It sounds like a “short-term, long-stay hotel,” he said, inferring that after those six months, the rules may differ.
Concerns about the proposed construction plan of the exitway possibly affecting the root system of an existing cherry tree were also discussed. Development of regional impact coordinator Alex Elvin stated that Agassi has been working with two arborists in an attempt to save the tree from being chopped down or moved.
Commissioner Ben Robinson requested more information regarding the arbor assessment. “I’d like to believe the applicant approached [the arborists] and gave an honest assessment” of the tree, he said, noting that there is nothing on record as of yet that states efforts to save the tree.
Agassi said that arborists confirmed that the radius around the tree “is sufficient,” adding that he would welcome a condition put in place by the MVC requiring him to hire someone to look into the matter more closely.
In asking the MVC to extend the public hearing, Hammarlund stated that “the public should have an opportunity” to familiarize themselves with the project to better formulate questions and responses. “It’s unrealistic to expect anybody to offer testimony and analysis on a master deed that was uploaded two days ago,” he said.
“What we don’t need on the Island is more Airbnb short-term rentals,” said commissioner Katherine Newman, suggesting more time to discuss the lease conditions.
Hancock added that the barely discussed proposed retail space within the building plans also needs more consideration and clarification before a decision can be made.
Commissioner Michael Kim said he would like a more thorough investigation of the dugout front stairs of the building, citing a possible safety concern. “I do not believe it is up to code,” he said.
Commissioner Doug Sederholm agreed with the commissioners, stating that the revised materials should be considered by the public. The public hearing will continue until June 16.
In other business, the commission again took up at length the proposed Main Street Medicinals marijuana dispensary — which will be located on Mechanic Street in Vineyard Haven — in a continued public hearing. One hot topic dealt with traffic concerns, despite lower-than-expected revenue and foot traffic projections.
The commission reiterated its need for an accurate traffic study, citing issues with the data presented, to which project consultant Josh Silver responded that the dispensary’s traffic engineer “has a rigid and scientific methodology.” Hancock pointed out that the presented traffic numbers did not match up with the revised, less-than-projected transaction counts.
Renderings showing proposed solar panels were met with commentary about their actual usefulness due to the panels being placed in a location greatly lacking access to the sun. “We’re doing our best with what we have there,” said Silver, noting that maybe 10 percent of the electricity will be offset by the solar panels. Robinson suggested the panels be more thoughtfully placed, in addition to advocating for working with local businesses, rather than off-Island companies, for construction consultation.
The dispensary has “signed a nonbinding letter of intent to lease a four-bedroom house (with occupancy of up to eight people and parking for five cars),” in addition to agreeing “to hire on-Island workers, wherever possible,” as cited in the proposal. Additionally, the previous request to increase street access surrounding the establishment by widening Mechanic Street has been referred to the planning board.