Following a handful of legal challenges this year over decisions made by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the regional permitting and planning agency has been served yet another complaint.
The most recent lawsuit, filed at Dukes County Superior Court on Nov. 9 by Lisa Kim and Eunu Chun, argues that the commission’s decision to deny their request to demolish their three-story, four-bedroom, 2,233-square-foot East Chop house, and replace it with a dwelling nearly twice the size, exhibited “disparate treatment” of the homeowner applicants, and violated the law by way of an unconstitutional tax imposition.
The MVC’s decision, which was made in a 8-2-1 vote on Sept. 15, states that the 7 Arlington Ave. house, built around 1875, is historically significant “in part due to its location in the Vineyard Highlands, its inclusion in the area known as Institute Hill, and because the original house was built in the Campground cottage style.”
Additionally, the commission’s decision noted that the house is listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), as a half of the former Palmer Villa House, which was relocated from Beecher Park over a century ago. The other half is 11 Arlington Ave., which the house currently abuts.
According to the commission, the applicants “did not establish that the home could not be preserved and feasibly renovated in a manner that would bring it into compliance with current safety codes,” and presented a proposed replacement structure that “did not faithfully preserve the historic character of the existing structure, particularly in regard to its size and massing.”
Per their complaint, the homeowners argue that “the only thing ‘historical’ about the home is its age,” as it is “not associated with any historically significant persons, movements, or events.” Further, the suit claims that any alternatives to demolition “would be impractical, unreasonably expensive, and overly time-consuming, when compared with what is entailed in demolition and rebuilding.”
The homeowners also argue that the existing house is structurally impaired, lacks central air conditioning and heat, and calls for a reconfiguration of the entire second floor, along with a new foundation and roof.
The property, sold in 2011 for $1.2 million, has undergone a number of repairs and maintenance, the owners state, “including reshingling, reroofing, re-enforcing the structure, replacing rotted windows, and replacing and repairing the home’s rotted porch.”
Renovating the house to meet their needs, the plaintiffs claim, “would likely be a more time-consuming, disruptive, costly, and environmentally impactful process than a demolition and rebuild.” The suit argues that the MVC’s decision to deny the demolition essentially “operates to impose a tax on the plaintiffs, in violation of law” by requiring the homeowners to “expend excessive and unreasonable sums to rehabilitate the home.”
This is the second lawsuit filed within the past two months against the commission in relation to demolitions. On Oct. 4, homeowners of 1133 Main St. in Tisbury sued the commission after their request to demolish the property’s four-story, seven-bedroom, 8,500-square-foot house was also denied in a 7-3 vote, with one abstention.
This, in addition to a series of other recent suits over decisions made by the MVC, has prompted the commission to seek more funding.
A letter from MVC Executive Director Adam Turner was sent to Island select boards in October, outlining the potential need to increase the commission’s budget in the upcoming year, after taking into account mounting legal challenges facing the agency.
Voters will take up any proposed increase at future town meetings prior to funds being allocated.