Redevelopment of EduComp building denied

After multiple public hearings and lengthy deliberations, the commission came to a split decision.

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The MVC rejected an expansion of the EduComp building in Vineyard Haven as proposed by the owner Xerxes Agassi.

The months of mulling over the proposed redevelopment of Tisbury’s EduComp building came to an end Thursday night as the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ultimately denied the request in a 10-6 vote. 

The proposal was subjected to numerous revisions since first brought before the commission in October of last year, but the owner struggled to quell ongoing concerns regarding adequate workforce and affordable housing, and questions about whether it conformed to Island character. 

Owner Xerxes Agassi’s request to redevelop and convert the building into a mixture of a handful of office spaces and 14 residential units had been a focal point at MVC meetings, with commissioners painstakingly working through lease conditions and rental agreements.

The proposed gut renovation job would increase the size of the building nearly threefold, a concept that few commissioners felt comfortable with. 

From heated opposition from the site’s abutters to discussions concerning how the proposed construction could impact nearby trees, Agassi’s project was met with a stream of questions, often bearing contentious undertones.

Agassi’s redevelopment consisted of three market-rate rentals, with one affordable housing unit. The building would have consisted of nine market-rate workforce housing units, to be leased to employees of Island-based businesses; with the caveat of a sunset clause — a time limit for tenancy, not exceeding a decade — subsequently triggering commissioners to lean toward requiring rentals in perpetuity.

At Tuesday’s LUPC meeting, commissioners were made aware of an additional offer by Agassi, providing five additional offsite workforce units which, due to vagueness, was met with a mix of opinions. 

“We don’t know exactly what it is,” Commissioner Fred Hancock said at Thursday’s meeting. “But we’d look pretty foolish not accepting an offer of housing units.” 

Commissioners Christine Todd and Ben Robinson disagreed. Without any details, Robinson noted that “it’s not an offer that bears on this project.”

”We have no enforcement mechanism in place to even evaluate … I don’t see it as holding any ground, quite frankly,” said Todd. 

The commission deliberated on possible pros and cons of the project at length; from economic impacts to maintaining viability of the cherry tree on site. 

Requests to conduct a straw poll were sidelined, as commissioner Joan Malkin cited a need to continue thumbing through the material to ensure thoroughness — and thorough they were. In the end, the decision came down to the size of the building, and in an informal majority vote, a majority of commissioners subsequently determined that the character of the proposed redevelopment was a detriment to the community.

Not every commissioner agreed. The project aligns with “what the commission has always championed,” said commissioner Brian Smith. He noted that despite the unprecedented size of the proposed building, housing needs supersede consideration of other detriments. “In order to get a big amount of housing, we have to have a big building,” he said. 

“I cannot understand any way it can be turned down,” said commissioner Trip Barnes, in agreement, emphasizing the need for Island housing.

“I usually believe if we have to put a bunch of conditions on a project to make it better that we should just deny it, and have the applicant come back with offers,” said commissioner Jim Vercruysse. However, he said, in this case, applying further conditions on the proposal might be a better alternative to denial. “I don’t think we need to deny it,” he said.

“We have zero evidence that the town wants this big of a building,” said commissioner Linda Sibley. “It is totally out of scale with the character of Vineyard Haven.”

Exercising the commission’s “interpretive power” is crucial for decision making, said commissioner Michael Kim. Pertaining to this project, Kim said, “the housing need is essential. The building is inappropriate.”

The denial was conditioned as without prejudice, waiving the two-year waiting period for resubmittal, and permitting Agassi to return to the commission with a more palatable proposal. 

37 COMMENTS

  1. I think the building has a much longer history as the VH exchange for New England Telephone

  2. Good. Perhaps before something like this, VH should look into why two of its more prominent commercial buildings have been without tenants for ages. There is no need for a monstrous building with ambiguous housing benefits.

  3. This can be summed up very quickly: you don’t need to sell out Vineyard Haven and transform it, keep in mind permanently, for less than a dozen workforce rental units. I should add that the comment quoted a friend Hancock, willing to sign on to a deal he doesn’t know the details of, well, Fred, I have some paperwork for you to sign!

    • Work force rental units…. Cough cough. It’s called affordable housing. The amount of demand created by greed seems to have increased peoples laziness. Weather it be a house owned for rental purposes to Johny “Summer Cakes” not wanting to do the handy work himself, to Janie “I got great consumption based business plan for the summer”. Greed has caused people to consume the island resources in droves and see green backs and this demand is ravenous. Let’s see what the CPI is next week. Non farm payroll just exceed expectations, while the unemployment rate hit expectations. The island prolly contributed to the NFP.

      • I hope you’re not comparing national statistics with local ones! As for the terminology, “workforce housing” and “affordable housing” derive differently in terms of things like HUD and the administration of rental units, etc.

        • National stats come from local stats. The island has always been a microcosm of America. At least that what the people of my parents year round generation would say. So the housing would be for people that only come to work then leave when people that live there year round can’t find housing cough cough. Everyone living on the island year round are the workforce of the island. Other then wealthy people that live off of funds or other means. So to expanded a building that could give some architectural improvements to the landscape or something interesting. Sounds like amityville talk. And the shark still ate people after they tried to say it wasn’t a shark. And keep in mind a certain architect also proposed changes to Main Street that weren’t liked but then implemented a few years later with out ever giving credit to said architect cough cough.

  4. We are all aware of the housing and worker shortage on this island. We complain tirelessly that something needs to be done to solve this problem. Approving this project wouldn’t have fixed every issue with housing we have but at least it’s a start in the right direction.
    What message does denying this project send to future developers that look to improve the housing crisis on island? That if you follow all the guidelines and requests presented by the MVC you can still get denied because they don’t like the way the building looks from the high horse the commissioners ride around on?
    The next time you’re waiting at the ER for hours to be seen by a doctor or staring at empty shelves at the grocery store will you say to yourself “at least that cherry tree in front of 4 State Rd is still alive”.
    I guess this is just the American way; see a problem, reject any solutions that will fix the problem because we don’t like change, and then complain that nothing is being done to solve the problem.

    • Thoughtful and sincere, Mike, but the reality of ignoring the actual project is a “forest for the trees perspective” — the project projected a TRIPLING of size. Can you really imagine that keeping in the character of Vineyard Haven? I agree that workforce housing is essential to us — as is maintaining the character of the island. This is why they can resubmit, if I’m not mistaken. It’s a tough needle to thread and neither you nor I would disagree, I think, that people want to squeeze every drop out of what they buy on Martha’s Vineyard for money. There actually was a time when, just like in America, it was different.

      • There was also a time a little over a hundred years ago that island summers were filled by thousands more people than today. Huge amusement buildings in OB, a train to South Beach, regular parades and bike races. These things were celebrated and now it’s all doom and gloom. Sad. A proposed building such as this would have cause a flurry of excitement within the community. Unfortunate that we have lost sight of what matters.

        • John, it is hard to believe that the Island’s Summer population was “thousands” higher in 1922 than it is in 2022.
          What is the source of your population numbers?

      • Yes, but this is the same response every time a project gets denied by the MVC. “This one project won’t solve the housing crisis” is always the line. It’s compounded over years into a housing crisis. No one can even explain in actual metrics what “keeping with the character” means. It’s totally subjective that changes on the whim and mood pf the MVC board. Have you seen all the abandon buildings in VH lately? How is that keeping with the character?

    • You’re exactly right. I’m baffled what constituency the MVC thinks it is representing here.

  5. I so agree and like the way you wrote that Mike Brophy, it is so sad and sadly the truth.

  6. My two cents: what about a strategic approach to our civic planning? Creative thinking, innovative design? First off, obviously the housing situation is overwhelming. Standard ownership models and hybrid affordable housing plans are small drops. My feeling is we need to prioritize community building and housing security for families and which single individuals like me. Studies on who exactly we all are, demographics? We need stable, committed neighborhoods for sectors such as education and healthcare. We need it sooner than later and in quantity. I think we be thinking in terms of developments and rentals for these sectors, strategically design and plan. Rental for the long term so we can prioritize community buildingand stable committed neighborhoods. Ownership should not be the priority, or tourism or market housing etc. Those sectors are doing very well, they do not need help.

    Re:community and economy: What about Artist/creative production housing in Educomp? There are plenty of models for that, and all over New England. For me “creative production” includes design in all dimensions. The Smithsonian museums in NYC and DC, the New Museum Creative Entrepreneurial programs all have great creative lab models where civic design and creative production intersect. There are plenty of studies that support the creative production and economic development. Boston has loads of models in their civic plan, it is based on it.

    Just a few thoughts!

    • Susan,
      I know this is going to sound mean but if there is successful “ creative housing production housing” models elsewhere, maybe you should relocate to one of those areas. Historicity, people move to where the jobs are and where they can afford to live. It’s not the tax payers responsibility to take care of able bodied people who would rather surf or paint by numbers then get a good paying job to support one’s lifestyle. I would love to live in Beverly Hills but I simply can’t afford it nor do I want to work in the sectors that would allow me the ability accumulate enough wealth to live there.

      The housing problem can be easily fixed on MV by simply allowing development but the powers that be don’t want to allow it. No apartment buildings on MV, it all about keeping MV in the 60’s and 70’s. That’s fine just don’t complain about it.

      • Your easy fix will work for 5 minutes. Until the island sinks from pollution, traffic, waste and indulging those swimming pools and artisan fireplaces all those renters in the building trades are itching to get their talented hands on. Your thinking is the same reason why a housing bank can further ruin the quality of life people came here for. How big do you think the tiny island is? Build, build, build is no easy fix for longer than a minute… until the next wave of easy money seekers moves in. Self-interest is short-sighted in that regard.

        • I understand and you are right about the problems that people bring to a community but you can’t tell people where they can and can’t live. The barn doors are open and MV will soon be the Coney Island of Mass. But I guess you could just tax everything so much that only the rich and the elite can afford to live here.

          • MV has always been the Coney Island of Massachusetts.
            It has become less tacky over time.
            It caters to the rich and famous.

        • Jackie, hardly an easy fix. Do you recognize the condescension in your reply? Not so different from Carl, and you are an artist. Strategic planning is a multi-tiered approach, scope divided into short and long term, Innovative design is not “artisan fireplaces” or whatever. It’s about building systems on a comprehensive level to improve quality of life and the capacity to thrive. Take a look at Boston’s strategic plans. What is your vision of the future?

          • Susan, I was not replying to your comment, but to Carl’s:
            “The housing problem can be easily fixed on MV by simply allowing development but the powers that be don’t want to allow it.”

            Allowing unregulated development is a sure way to destroy the island.

      • Carl, do you recognize the condescension in your reply to me? I am not complaining and I am not naive or entitled. I am suggesting a strategic planning approach, which many cities and towns now use. Strategic planning means you determine the problem and you solve it. Innovative design means you figure out the best way for the best result.

        For your information, my roots are deep here and am well aware of the realities of the place. I am also aware of how tenuous my future is here, in addition to the future of the place itself. As an artist and scholar I am aware of other areas are tackling issues similar and dissimilar to our own, and my suggestion is realistic and practical. We are not heading towards a sustainable future. Tackling problem with our scope means pinpointing your priorities. As other places pinpoint, building stable neighborhoods is ground zero. Interesting your big recommendation is “leave if you don’t like it”.What is your vision of where we are going?

        • Susan… my apologies for coming off the way I did. It’s frustrating to see the same complaints about housing year after year with viable solutions constantly disregarded. I do not begrudge you or anyone else for wanting a certain lifestyle as long as it is sustainable as you say. If it pays for itself and makes the community better I am all for it. And you are correct in identifying what the priorities of MV should be before investing. My vision would be to build affordable housing perhaps out by the airport along a public transportation route that one would be proud to live in. It could be done with tax incentives to both the builder and the occupant. But as soon as you mention development on this island the rocks start to be thrown. Again, my apologies for being a j**k.

  7. There are SO many buildings, including those in areas zoned as single family residences, which illegally and profitably house illegal residents, I see no reason that reputable and historic buildings need to be transformed into flop houses. Why doesn’t the Tisbury Building Inspector do their job?

  8. I looked at this property when it was for sale. It is iconic, incredibly strong, beautiful to look at, and in my mind historic. The MVC did the right thing. But the subject here is about neighbors, trees, and a most beautiful core building that can likely support the sale price as it is. But the MVC is a powerful organization that in another arena has taken down and will continue to take down hundreds of valuable trees and force the taking of land by eminent domain for a shared use path in Oak Bluffs. There is only one thing in the training manual for Mass DOT that is absolutely not recommended and it singled out and it is the installation of a shared use path, ie. SUP, on any two lane road because it is too dangerous. A fact the MVC steadfastly denies. However, the formula for a two lane road with a reduced travel land for vehicles and wider bike lanes was implemented on Beach Road. It works. Jay Grande, town Administrator in Tisbury wants to continue this plan on State Road and this would go past this building and further improve Tisbury and create safer cycling and safer vehicular conditions with this grand historic structure at its start.

  9. When will we ever see a project that the MVC approves to provide additional housing supply to an island in the mist of a housing crisis?

    • There is no housing crisis.
      This newspaper is full of ads of real estate for sale and rent.

  10. It seems to me that “keeping with Island character” means limiting worker housing like we’ve seen for decades. Way to go, MV Commission!

  11. funny most comments come from people who do not live in VH I live in VH it is a great use of the property being proposed we absolutely need more housing why does the mvc decide whats better for us

  12. There is so much open land near the airport. Do affordable housing there. Not expand in the most traffic congested part of the island. How dumb

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