Demolition requests continue

The MVC held a public hearing on Thursday about a proposal to demolish a West Chop structure built around 1890.

The MVC heard testimony about a request by the owners to demolish this West Chop house.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission held a public hearing on yet another demolition request on Thursday night. The request to demolish West Chop’s 1133 Main St. came to the commission from owners Susannah and Brian Bristol, who argued the house is “under-structured.“ 

The Bristols are requesting permission to replace the four-story, seven-bedroom dwelling, which is believed to have been built around 1890, with a three-story structure that, according to architect Paul Weber, “will try to capture the same character as the existing house.”

Susannah Bristol told the commission that although she has been living in the winterized house year-round, “it doesn’t support full-time living.”

Despite the owner’s declaration that the house is structurally unsound, and may pose “possible safety concerns,” in his presentation, development of regional impact coordinator Alex Elvin noted, “Town agencies have not indicated any safety issues with the house.” 

However, in an email to The Times, Tisbury building inspector Ross Seavey said that the Tisbury building department was not asked to give any input. 

“We do not inspect homes for safety issues outside of an active building permit or an obvious and immediate safety hazard, nor were we asked to weigh in on this project, or really any other project,” Seavey wrote. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to be using us as counter-evidence when we were not consulted. Structural integrity, if raised as an issue, should be reviewed and analyzed by a registered design professional; building-code-speak for an architect or engineer.”

There were 19 letters of support — 18 of which were written by West Chop residents — sent to the commission. They did little to outweigh correspondence from the Tisbury historical commission, which emphatically cited the significance of the structure, noting if it were to be demolished, “it would tear a page from the history of West Chop.”

“The challenges of rehabilitating such dwellings are considerable,” the letter states, “but many houses on Martha’s Vineyard, some more than a century older than 1133 Main St., have been successfully updated and thus preserved.”

In reviewing planning concerns, Elvin listed material use, energy, wastewater, drainage and landscape; he explained that according to the town assessor, the structure is in above-average condition, and the project would call for the removal of several mature oak trees. 

The project would call for a new Title 5 septic system, and roof gutter drainage system, both of which the Bristols state they plan on doing. Additionally, because the building is currently oil-heated, the Bristol’s stated they would like to install electric heat pumps, which they allegedly cannot do without a full demolition. 

Per the demo application, the Bristols stated that they will try to salvage some existing interior features of the house. “Certainly the front door will be the front door for ever and ever,” Susannah Bristol told commissioners. 

Commissioner Linda Sibley questioned why the oak trees need to be removed, to which Bristol responded the goal would be to save the trees, and it may be possible to avoid the removal. “There are ways you can put in steel barriers that protect the roots,” she said. 

Commissioner Brian Smith questioned the safety concerns regarding the existing building, and inquired as to whether the house has balloon framing. Contractor Gary Maynard said he has “not opened up the whole building,” but believes there to be indications that it is “lightly framed by today’s standards,” and could not speak to whether it poses possible safety hazards. 

Commissioner Kate Putnam, who had successfully rehabilitated her own home that had similar structural issues, asked the applicant about the cost of demolition versus the cost of alternatives. 

Maynard replied that a “ballpark estimate” is that demolition would cost 25 percent less than rehabilitating the dwelling. “That’s just a gut check,” he said. The applicants told the commission that any alternatives to demolition is “financially infeasible,” triggering some further financial inquiry by commissioners, which was subsequently met with reluctance from the applicant to go into specifics. 

“We’re not asking for definite dollars,” said Commissioner Fred Hanock, adding that the commission is merely looking to understand the reasoning for the demolition. 

“There are more cost-effective solutions that would get at protecting the building,” said Commissioner Ben Robinson, which was agreed upon by Maynard. 

Additionally, Robinson asked Bristol about the proposed replacement structure’s size — a total of 7,178 square feet — and advocated for more thought to be put into possibly minimizing impact by decreasing square footage. Bristol said visiting family will already be “packing into a smaller house with fewer bedrooms … That’s one way of sharing, rather than having a vast expanse that is seen in other parts of the Island.” 

The public hearing via written record will remain open until August 4. 

In other business, the commission enthusiastically approved the proposed Island Autism master plan in West Tisbury; a campus featuring a 4,807-square-foot central building with guest rooms, an apartment, kitchen, and office space; in addition to five separate living units, a barn, and a farmstand. After deliberations, commissioners decided that the benefits of the project outweigh the detriments. 

“It’s such a pleasure to review a project that is so well-thought-out and provides such a tremendous service to the community. It’s great,” said commission chair Joan Malkin. 

Although the commission was slated to approve the written decision to deny EduComp building owners’ proposed redevelopment on Thursday, Malkin said the agenda item was tabled to allow for “a little more time [in order to] make sure the decision accurately reflects [the commission’s] deliberation.”


  1. I have crawled all through that building doing previous work, it’s not sound or efficient by any stretch. It would need to be stripped to the beams, how is that preservation? the energy efficiency alone should have factored into the allowance of this. We all sit here and talk about the environmental impact of everything here, this is a way to save resources on our island. I am sure the Bristol family will treat the history and surroundings with respect. Sometimes it’s better to start over, this is definitely the case here.

      • John– –Ramen –when I get an opportunity to agree with you, I will try to make it public. This is one of those cases. As a builder, I realize the value of starting over.
        As for environmental concerns, any serious renovation of a building like that will have about 80% of it in the dump anyway. In the big picture, just the gas used by workers every day for months to come to work and dismantle this by hand will be a factor.
        Spot on comment , Brian —
        Thanks for the first hand assessment.
        There’s nothing like having someone who knows what they are talking about, and knows the building having input here.

  2. Stop the ride.I wanna get off.
    Sincerely Martha’s Vineyard
    P.S I didn’t sign up for this

  3. So happy to hear there is push back for this. A beautiful home that can be preserved should be.

    • Look at the documents. It can’t be preserved. Every aspect of the renovation will change the home. The proposed new home will mimic the existing home but be smaller and more energy efficient. How is this a bad thing?

      • As a former contractor I know that almost anything can be preserved, restored and renovated. As long as it’s maintained a property will stand the tests of time such as this house is an example. The bottom line is it takes money.
        The question here really is do they want to preserve a piece of VH, West Chop and MV history or do they want just plain new.

  4. “triggering some further financial inquiries” So now the commission gets to weigh in on a projects budget?

  5. Methinks these are all the exact same arguments as those made in connection with the Luce house in Indian Hill. Same script.

    Speaking of conserving energy, has the embodied energy represented by the existing structure been calculated, plus the energy required to demolish the building and dispose of the debris (including any transport off-island), plus the energy embodied in new materials (includng of course transportation to the Vineyard), infrastructure, etc.?

    If one is going to bring in energy efficiency as an argument or evidence , then one must count ALL THE ENERGY. Including energy embodied in the existing structure and wasted when it is torn down.

    It is fun to limit the energy discussion to the “savings” after an extremely restricted energy calculation that excludes most of the actual energy expenditure and waste.

    I believe all such teardown applications should be subject to such a comparison of the energy expenditure of a complete teardown to the energy expenditure of a rehab. The Commission should take steps now to locate an expert on this subject who can be called on when needed to do this calculation. This investigation of each project should be paid for by applicants. They should understand that teardowns of old houses are not encouraged on Martha’s Vineyard, and they should think carefully before they buy.

    Don’t applicants do inspections of very expensive homes before they buy them?

    As for the installation of heat pumps requiring demolishing the structure, if this were true, I should think it would pretty much demolish the market for heat pumps.

    Again, expert opinion needed on this.

    Solid figures on the energy issue would help move the discussion along.

    To, for instance, the mature oak trees.

    According to a local naturalist who works with Biodiversity Works, oak trees are the tree species with the greatest number of associated species.


    “The oak [is] the king of biodiversity.

    Up to 2,300 species are known to be associated with oak, and that doesn’t include all of the fungi, or any of the bacteria and other microorganisms which create a symbiotic home with the oak.

    “The 2,300 species consist of some 38 bird species, 229 bryophytes, 108 fungi, 1,178 invertebrates, 716 lichens, and 31 mammals. Of these species, 320 are found only on oak trees, and a further 229 species are rarely found on species other than oak.

    “The trees are also a favorite of wild bees and pollinators. Uniquely, they do not offer the traditional nectar from flowers but provide a similar substance that is secreted through gals growing on the tree. The oak’s main reason for secreting this secret substance is to attract insects that can help protect the tree from other harmful insects.

    “Even as the oak gets old and shows signs of age with holes and crevices appearing, this can benefit wildlife and is a perfect nesting spot for many species of bird such as the pied flycatcher or woodpecker. In turn, holes made by woodpeckers are ideal for bats to roost in.”

    Taking down mature oaks is ecological vandalism that destroys ecological “services” whose value should also be part of any demolition equation.

  6. Last week, the MVC allows in a private closed meeting the (grandfathered) Harbor View Hotel to expand their commercial uses in a purely residential area, despite the fact that zoning was established almost 60 years ago by 2/3 town vote. Now, the MVC is reversing its stance and now it’s speaking up for residential and historic preservation. Go figure!? But this time, you are correct to challenge and deny.

    This lovely home and the Harbor View are more than similar – they are perfect examples of the “Shingle-style” homes originating in New England in the 1870s. At last, the MVC is noticing the importance of historic authenticity … how many more dormer windows plastered all over Edgartown’s facades, and dark glossy green doors on wooden “carriage houses” (nee garages) can we stand? Mr. and Mrs. Bristol: why did you buy this treasure? Why not go to another island and find a similar view without something of value you will raze? You have the background to settle anywhere – this isn’t the only spot with a view, but it is one with a historic and architectural treasure. It’s called “character”, not money.
    And, MVC Commissioners: it’s not your job to offer solutions to their architects/engineers — you don’t need to know details about the rebuild or “necessity” of removing trees, and septic tanks, etc..Their contractors will have the rebuttals already hammered out and reviewed. So, forget this silly sparring. It’s simple: just say NO! End of discussion. No!

    • The background to settle anywhere? So you’re assuming they’re rich and because of that, they shouldn’t be allowed to purchase a home and do what they want with it on Martha’s Vineyard?

        • Ok, so you know they’re rich. Back to my original question, why shouldn’t they be allowed to purchase a house where they want and do what the want with it? Old does not mean historic, it means old. And don’t give me the “architectural detail” claptrap. Architectural detail can be replicated very easily, I do it every day.

  7. Here’s a novel idea. Any town that wants to preserve older, rotting homes, historical or not, should have a fund set up to help with the extra costs of that preservation. Why should the home owners bear the brunt of the cost for preservation?

  8. Preserving one of these homes only means protecting the outside appearance I believe. Would the owner be prevented from totally rearranging the interior of the home in a manner that makes the original interior unrecognizable? I don’t think so. If this is true, then why don’t we require the owner to upgrade their home such that at the end of the project the home’s exterior is a facsimile of the home when it was purchased. After the construction is over the neighbors, the town folk, even those born on the island will barely notice the difference. Isn’t that what we want?

  9. I have been the caretaker for this home for the past 30 years. And guess who has been there the whole time? The Bristol family.
    And it was in their family long before that. They didn’t buy this house so they they could tear it down and make it their own.
    They have been living in this house as is and no one will ever know what that means unless you have experienced it.
    It’s boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The 2nd and 3rd floors are not even usable in the winter months as the water has to be turned off because it’s below freezing on those floors. And that’s with the oil fired furnace running none stop 24-7 burning 1,000’s of gallons of oil and all the fireplaces going. How is that Environmentally friendly? That’s more fuel in a few months than all of the equipment used to demo this house will use.
    In the summer months with the high humidity it’s unbearably hot and mold grows everywhere throughout the home. How would you like to live in a mold infested home? Safety Hazard?
    I have personally been in the walls of this house many, many times over the years and it’s not pretty.
    Over the past 100 plus years many repairs and renovations have taken place. The structure has been chopped up and patched up many times. The foundation is in poor condition and leaks contributing to mold growth. Don’t even get me started on the plumbing an electrical. You can’t even make a simple repair to either with tearing the whole room apart trying to find a good portion of wire or pipe to reconnect to and then you find your self doing even more chopping and patching of the structure to keep it safe. As a friend and builder used to say there is no value in the existing structure.
    Yes the place looks amazing from the inside and out as it’s been very well maintained. But it’s nothing more than cosmetic. The bones and mechanicals are gone.
    The Bristol’s love this house with all their heart and it’s been an agonizing decision for them to make but at the end of the day starting over is the best solution to resolve all the problems. It’s not only their decision but the recommendation of the people that know what their talking about.
    I could go on and on about all the problems this house has but it will just fall on deaf ears of people assuming they know better even though they have no personal experience with this home or the Bristol family.
    I can only hope when the day comes for all you naysayers to need approval for something that are are dragged over the cold as well.

  10. I agree with some comments on preservation. if the town or MVC is concerned with that then we should use CPC funds (community preservation commission) to help homeowners offset the expense.

  11. To the comment about wasted energy. As someone already stated, the energy used to bring the workers to and from the jobsite line during the hand dismantling needed to “preserve” rhis ancient delapatated building is enough that tearing it down and starting new with a smaller More Energy efficient structure will Actually save energy.

  12. Tim, that is the best description of the situation. I wish I could have articulated it that well. Well said my friend.

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