In its fifth full public hearing on the redevelopment of the EduComp building in Tisbury, commissioners mulled over new updates to the proposed plan at the MVC’s Thursday meeting.
Following numerous discussions concerning building owner Xerxes Agassi’s intended use of the housing units, the commission was provided with revised “lease language pertaining to short-term rentals.”
Agassi also submitted a draft condominium master deed and declaration of trust, with the draft document citing slightly stricter verbiage regarding subletting. All units will be rentals, with three being unrestricted units. “The particular employees living in the leased premises may vary from time to time,” the draft states.
Additionally, more information regarding the cherry tree in front of the building was included in the record.
As part of the draft, Agassi offers “to engage an Island-based arborist and follow their recommendation in our efforts to save the tree throughout the construction period. If despite our best efforts we are unsuccessful in saving the tree — we offer to commit to replacing the tree with a new tree in kind.”
Additionally, Agassi agreed to engage the Public Archaeological Laboratory in order for them to review final stormwater plans, and to follow any recommendation.
Direct abutter attorney Erik Hammarlund testified before the commission following alleged failed negotiations with Agassi to come to terms regarding the property’s easement. Hammarlund asserted that the easement at the property boundary would “require the removal of 100 percent of vegetation that currently separates the two properties, including numerous mature trees.”
Hammarlund said Agassi is “playing both sides of the table” by presenting inaccurate exhibits at the hearing.
Additionally, “with respect to the cherry tree,” Hammarlund said, “whatever it is the applicant is saying about preserving the cherry tree, that preservation certainly isn’t mentioned in either of the arborist letters.”
“We have confirmation by [Agassi] that both of them have been engaged to provide some recommendations on how to take care of the tree,” said MVC DRI coordinator Alex Elvin, adding that that neither arborist mentioned by Agassi has yet responded to the commission’s attempts to confirm documents provided.
“How can we ensure that these arborists are being asked the critical question?” said commissioner Linda Sibley. “Which is the probable viability of the tree under the circumstances proposed … I want to make sure that they are asked that question.”
Sibley continued, “I have a long suspicion of specialists hired by and paid for by applicants, so what if any relationship do we have to these people?” Sibley said it is of utmost importance for the consulting arborists “to understand that their fundamental responsibility is to the public, through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.”
“When it comes to a living tree, nobody can give us a 100 percent certainty …” said commissioner Fred Hancock, to which commissioner Christina Brown replied, “The fundamental question is not, ‘Can you, an arborist, guarantee [said tree] will live through this project?’ It’s more layered than that.” Brown added that the commission has not yet received answers to the “layers” of the question.
Abutter Doreen Kinsman Maynard emphasized the need to also consider the 60-foot American elm tree that sits on the property line between her family home and the EduComp building. Maynard said the elm would not be able to survive the construction, and suggested that the commission have the viability of that tree analyzed as well. “I [know the tree] won’t survive,” she said, adding, “I’m happy to pay for an arborist to tell you that.”
Commissioner Doug Sederholm recused himself from the hearing, citing that “about an hour before this meeting had started, I became aware that a member of my immediate family is employed by a company that has recently contracted to provide construction-related services to the applicant.”
Although Sederholm noted that “to the best of [his] knowledge, this conflict of interest arose very recently and did not exist at any other sessions of the public hearing,” including any coinciding Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) meeting, he will be exercising caution in addition to following up with the State Ethics Commission.