LUPC continues crack down on demo proposals

In a close vote, the MVC subcommittee recommended denying the Look Street permit.

The LUPC voted to recommend to the full commission denying Morrison's demolition request.

Following a number of discussions and public hearing sessions regarding the request to demolish and replace a house on Look Street in Tisbury on Monday evening, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission received a recommendation to deny the proposed project from the commission’s Land Use Planning subcommittee (LUPC). 

A representative for the project, agent Michael Morrison, had recently gotten a fair amount of pushback from commissioners, due to his submission of inaccurate renderings of the replacement structure, in addition to his reluctance to consider alternatives to demolition. 

According to the proposal, the project aims to demolish the existing four-bedroom, 1,920-square-foot house, and replace it with a five-bedroom, two-story, 3,479-square-foot house featuring a basement at the 43 Look St. property. 

The current house is believed to be around 100 years old, and is located outside the William Street Historic District, said DRI coordinator Alex Elvin. The house itself is not listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) or any other historic register. 

After being provided more accurate information about what the replacement structure would look like, commissioners were split in their opinions regarding whether or not the new house matches the character of the neighborhood. 

“Character and identity were the sole factors identified by [MVC] staff,” commissioner Doug Sederholm said, “and frankly, that’s pretty much the whole ballpark here.”

Sederholm noted that the size of the proposed building would “make [it] the largest house on the Look Street corridor by a significant amount, and it would likely be one of the tallest houses in height.” He said an MVC consultant had explained that “there is no precedent” for the style of house being requested in the immediate area.

“I’m feeling like it’s really hard to make a decision on this,” said commissioner Kathy Newman. “Because there’s something that lacks clarity.”

“When we ask questions,” she said to Morrison, “you don’t know the details of these plans, the way most people presenting to the commission do.”

Commissioner Doug Sederholm said as a “quasi-adjudicatory body,” the commission must “weigh the evidence that is presented,” regardless of whether there are insufficient documents filed. 

Commissioner Trip Barnes inquired as to what “evidence” would need to be considered. Sederholm noted he was referring to the “quality of the plans.”

Additionally, “we don’t have any detail regarding the cost of renovation,” Sederholm said, as opposed to projected cost of demolition and construction. In prior meetings, commissioners were told by Morrison that cost is the driving factor in choosing demolition. Commissioners inquired as to what that cost comparison would look like.

On Monday, Morrison offered general estimates: $650,000 to $750,000 for a renovation, compared to $734,000 for construction of the replacement building, not including costs associated with demolition.

Commissioner Ben Robinson noted that the submitted structural reports have not determined that the house cannot be saved. “The existing building is a nice representation” of the houses of that era and location, Robinson said. “This new building does nothing to improve the visual appearance of that road.” 

Acknowledging the variety of house styles along Look Street, Robinson said the proposed modular home would still not align with the overall character.

He said along with the energy load involved in the actual demolition, the materials proposed for construction are a detriment to the environment. “I struggle to find any benefit to an approval of the demolition,” he said. 

“To demolish a serviceable house and replace it with something that’s way out of character is kind of a double detriment,” said commissioner Fred Hancock, before making a motion to recommend denial.

Barnes said the proposed house would not be out of character for the particular neighborhood, and noted the eclectic nature of the area, architecturally. He said he felt the applicant’s submissions were “more than adequate.” Commissioner Peter Wharton agreed, and advocated for approval.

Understanding the concerns, Morrison told commissioners that at the end of the day, the details of the project are representative of his client’s choices.

Commissioners ultimately voted to recommend denial to the full commission in a 3-2 vote with 3 abstentions. The MVC will take up the proposal Thursday, for deliberation and tentative decision.


  1. The commission loves to use phrases such a “character and identy” or “improve the visual appearance” So let me ask them, how does that mess behind the old stone bank, that the commission approved at breakneck speed, improve the visual appearance or identity of downtown Vineyard Haven?
    The commission has outlived it’s usefulness.

    • Different people have different opinions.
      The Commission needs people like Jim.
      Someone who represents the majority of the Island.

  2. I have to agree with Jim’s comment about the mess going up behind the bank, on Union Street, and on the harbor. I keep hoping it will improvement as the project continues, but it’s just getting worse! Nauseating pea-green siding?!? How is that in keeping with the character of downtown Vineyard Haven? This is turning out to be a mistake of massive proportions that we’ll have to live with forever.
    But I digress. I have written previously about having lived in that house on the corner of Look Street for the first five years of my life, in the early 1950’s, and I have such great memories of the place. To allow whatever Mr. Morrison’s clients are seeking to do on this corner would be a big mistake and definitely should not be allowed. I agree with the direction the MVC is going on this one. Let the clients sell the property to someone who would give it the respect it deserves and then they can buy a property somewhere else where they can build whatever they want!

    • Union Street is a disaster.

      The view from the ferry up to Main Street and beyond has been ruined.

      I make a point of avoiding that street.

      It is too upsetting.

  3. So it’s outside any historic district and it’s not listed on MACRIS, why is the MVC even involved? Yes, the house is over 100 years old but it’s not considered an historical building. Man made structures don’t last forever, especially when it was build over 100 years ago. What does the MVC need to know what the cost of demolition? The owner chooses to pay the costs and believes it will cost more to renovate than rebuild, that is all anyone needs to know. I feel the MVC is outside of its lane on this one. I agree with Jim, that mess down at the old stone bank is no way in character with the waterfront but the MVC approved that. This is a private citizen building himself a private home. When will the MVC get out of our pockets? The MVC makes its own rules without any oversight.

  4. We all complain about the Martha’s Vineyard Commission but no one seems to put it on the ballot about voting to get out of the commission. It is a terrible burden on taxpayers that seems to have no end. We have plenty of local regulations now and the commission has outlived its usefulness. Selectmen across the island have some forward thinking and let’s either get out of the commission or reshape it. Most of the islands selectmen just like being a selectmen and have no forward thinking and are passionate about any particular project.

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