The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) heard a request from Oak Bluffs select board member Brian Packish Monday to modify the construction schedule of the planned Menotomy building, in addition to an extension to the building permit.
The proposed Menotomy building project, located at 14 Kennebec Ave., was approved by the commission in 2020. It calls for the demolition of the site’s current building, and a replacement construction with four market-rate apartments and a basement, all of which will increase the square footage by around 3,400 square feet. The Menotomy’s first floor will continue to be home to the popular Red Cat Kitchen restaurant.
The building had been sold by Thomas G. Ward and Carol L. Hulak to Chilmark resident and Los Angeles record producer Gary Jones, operating as GJ & BP Holdings LLC, for $690,000 in 2019. Oak Bluffs select board member Brian Packish is a partner in the transaction.
Packish told the commission that because construction is unlikely to be completed by the approved construction schedule end date of May 15, he is hoping to begin the work a month earlier than the initially proposed Oct. 15 date.
Stating that the project was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Packish said the construction schedule has been negatively impacted by “strained/nonexistent labor force” and “supply chain issues,” in addition to “additional challenges with the Kennebec Avenue portion of the streetscape” slated to begin this fall.
Packish provided the commission with the updated timeline, which he said would be consistent with the commercial zoning construction policy of Oak Bluffs.
MVC DRI coordinator Alex Elvin relayed to the commision a handful of correspondences from nearby business owners expressing concern over the change in construction schedule, highlighting that it would negatively impact their business.
Commissioners on the LUPC were then charged with the decision of whether to recommend a public hearing to the full commission.
Packish said the new timeline was created to “take into account all of our neighbors and all of the projects and all of the things [that are happening] downtown.” Packish continued, “Quite frankly, the difference is we all have to feel a little bit of pain due to the [development] downtown, or the Red Cat literally does not open next season, not one single day.”
“I do not own the Red Cat,” Packish said, “but I am sympathetic to the owners and their families.”
Commissioner Fred Hancock questioned Packish on the timeline: “Under your current proposal, you’re looking for an earlier start time but finishing at the proposed [end] time?”
“We want to be able to work within the town’s current policy, which is afforded for every other building in the downtown,” Packish replied, “which is Sept. 15 to June 15.”
Packish said he “sure would work as fast as I can, and would love to have [Red Cat Kitchen] open for Memorial Day.”
With abutting construction projects and “with streetscape tearing up the street all winter,” Packish said, “we’re the only ones on a timeframe like this one, so we’re just looking to find some equity in the process.”
Hancock said it “wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility” for the project to still be unable to meet the proposed deadline, which would mean the construction could end up seeping into the post–Memorial Day season.
Commissioner Ben Robinson questioned whether it would be appropriate to approve the modifications to the construction timeline without public input, and sought clarity whether the initial approved schedule was proposed by Packish.
The Oct. 15 start time was “not anything that was imposed on the applicant by the commission,” Hancock confirmed.
Robinson said the commission should look back at the 2020 written decision to see if the schedule was “a substantive piece of the approval,” for an understanding of how much weight was put on the construction timeline. He said if the commission did not consider it a significant factor, he would advocate for allowing the modification per the Oak Bluffs zoning regulations.
“We did in fact take serious note of the fact that construction wasn’t going to start until Columbus Day,” Hancock said.
For a modification review by the full commission, Elvin said the earliest possible date would be Sept. 15, but “the applicant can also opt to go straight to a hearing,” which could be held August 25.
Commission chair Joan Malkin said a substitution of an altered schedule without public input after the construction dates have already been made public could be problematic.
With no motions or recommendations on the table, the proposal would have made its way to the full commission for deliberation; however, after around 10 minutes of discussion among commissioners, Packish unexpectedly announced that he will withdraw the request altogether, and said he will instead just be submitting a request to extend the length of time allotted for the project.
“We’re just going to postpone the project a couple of years,” he said. “And close the Red Cat.”
Packish said he doesn’t want the project to “become a big thing,” as he “could get hundreds of people to write letters. I just don’t think it’s worth it to our community.”
Before promptly removing himself from the meeting, leaving commissioners looking perplexed, Packish added, “We’ll just gut the building from the restaurant over the course of the fall, and just extend the project’s [timeline].”