At their Thursday evening meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted to deny the proposed demolition of an Oak Bluffs house at 7 Arlington Ave,
Commissioners denied the application in a 8-2-1 vote and without prejudice, allowing the applicants to submit another request before the typical two year waiting period.
The Oak Bluffs house, believed to have been built in 1875, is listed on Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) as a component of the East Chop historic area, and was, per the application, slated to be replaced by a structure nearly double the size.
The proposal consisted of the demolition of the existing three-story, four-bedroom, 2,233-square foot house, and a replacement structure with a 4,460 square foot house and plans for an additional 484 square foot garage.
MVC’s Land Use Planning subcommittee had voted 6-1 at their July 5 meeting to recommend to the full commission denying the request, citing the historical significance of the East Chop area, and deeming the reconstruction plans as “out of character” with the neighborhood.
Although the commission had received a large number of letters of support for the proposed project, commissioners took issue with the size and design of the replacement.
Daughter of direct abutter John Sands, Kendra Sands submitted both oral and written testimony, urging commissioners not to approve the demolition and reconstruction. Regarding the replacement building plans, Sands told commissioners “their windows will directly look into our bedrooms. It will feel very much like city or tight suburban living with buildings built on top of each other.”
In a letter submitted to the commission, 7 Arlington Ave property owners Eunu Chun and Lisa Kim argued that “the value of [the house] will be significantly devalued by a rejection of [the] proposal,” and noted that various structural issues have not been addressed through prior renovation and repair efforts.
Chun and Kim acknowledged the correspondence from Sands, and said that “her views should be irrelevant to MVC’s decision. . . Clearly, [Sands] is concerned about the impact on her father’s house of our proposed new home, and we have spoken to her father many times.”
In his written testimony, John Sands said that “all projects, either commercial or residential, [ought] to be designed and scaled to coincide with the surrounding neighbors and landscape.” He continued, “the current proposal is scaled too large and will be looming over our property and neighbors creating a sense of invasiveness instead of value. . . Each project like this that is approved, is a slippery slope, sliding away from what Martha’s Vineyard is, and closer to the megamansions and unwelcome nature of the Hamptons.”
Abutter Ted Meleney also expressed opposition with the reconstruction, mainly the revised plans which consist of adding the garage structure. Meleney called it an “unattractive appendage that does not fit with the concept of a Vineyard cottage.” He added that plans for the back of the house “ [look] like it was pasted on the plan with Scotch tape.”
In the correspondence with the commission, the homeowners wrote: “we struggle to understand why building a home that is less than 4000 square feet above ground is such a major problem. There are many houses nearby that are already much bigger, our footprint will not change significantly, and our lot of almost a full acre is much larger than the lots of those homes.”
Ultimately, many commissioners noted the increasing demolition requests coming before the MVC, triggering commissioner Linda Sibley to reiterate her main concern that homebuyers could be purchasing older buildings for the sole purpose of demolishing and starting from scratch.
Commissioner Michael Kim briefly expressed concerns about “increasing litigation against the commission,” for denying proposals, and noted that the demolition of a nearby house was approved less than two years ago. Kim, who voted to deny the demo of 7 Arlington, said he had also voted to deny the former, and argued for some kind of consistency with the commission’s decisions.
Commissioner Jeff Agnoli said the architectural climate has changed, even within the last two years, especially regarding environmental impacts of massive demolition and construction projects. Noting the replacement structure would be twice the size of the existing home, Agnoli said of approving the project: “I don’t think it makes sense, environmentally.”
Commissioner Ernie Thomas agreed, and argued that the existing condition of 7 Arlington Ave is far better than some of the other houses up for demo approval.
Commissioner Linda Sibley, wearing a T-shirt that read the preamble of Chapter 831 of the Acts of 1977– Martha’s Vineyard Commission Act– was the first to entertain a motion to vote to deny the application. “It’s our fundamental mission to maintain the character of Martha’s Vineyard,” she said.
In other business, the commission took on two proposals regarding two West Tisbury cell towers at their Thursday evening meeting.
The first proposal, located at 21 New Lane, serviced by Verizon and owned by American Tower, involves a replacement and addition of antennas, “and other tower mounted equipment,” which will remain in the same position as it is currently. Within the fenced area, “minor changes” will be made to the ground-mounted equipment.
Commissioners swiftly entered into a vote to approve the modification, resulting in a unanimous decision.
Commissioners briefly discussed the request for changes to a Sprint cell tower located at 0 Airport Road, before voting to kick the proposal back to the town for review and decision.
Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Adam Turner took a moment to acknowledge the humanitarian situation which had been unfolding in Edgartown, following the unexpected arrival of roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants Wednesday afternoon. He said MVC’s emergency response management coordinator Kevin Brennan, who also works at the MVY airport, was continuously on the scene and along with many others, “deserve a great deal of credit.”
Turner said “when the arrival of 50 migrants, workers, and children, unannounced, Kevin was well situated at the airport to swifty shift gears and take on a strong coordination role and response effort working closely with towns emergency management, the county, MEMA, community services, and others.”