MVC sued, again, over another demolition denial 

East Chop homeowners’ lawsuit piles onto the commission’s existing legal battles.

The Martha's Vineyard Commission has been sued over their decision to deny a request to demolish a historic house at 7 Arlington Ave. — Martha's Vineyard Commission

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. 


  1. Just another reason why the commission needs to be dissolved. And it needs to be done before they come groveling for more of the taxpayers money. It’s a safe bet there’s a lot more lawsuits heading their way.

    • Martha’s Vineyard taxpayers have never had a better bargain than the Commission. With its ongoing protection of our environment, The Commission has helped keep the Island one of the most desirable places to live on earth.
      Now and then, and maybe even in this case, The Commission can make a mistake.But it can’t
      just fold because someone sues or threatens to sue. What protection would we then have?
      When Islanders are assessed to support The Commission, homeowners Islandwide pay at the same rate. When it comes to protectiong our environment, we are all in this together.

      • Had being the key word. The commission continually oversteps it’s bounds. Any bargain the taxpayers may have had, is about to be paid back ten fold when the commission hits up the taxpayer to fund its escalating legal fees. The lawsuits are coming.
        Quick question, how does the mess in VH that the commission greenlightes at breakneck speed help the environment?

    • The mandate of the MVC is to preserve the character of the Island, and that means not everyone gets what they want. That includes homeowners, developers, contractors and real estate brokers, among others. When some entity doesn’t get what they want sometimes they sue, other times they call for a dissolution of the Commission or they complain a lot about the unfairness of it all. Very predictable. And wrong. The attraction of the Vineyard is that it has a different character, and to the extent we lose that we lose its attraction, and value.

      • Richard, that is the problem as there is no one character of the island and it’s all interpreted differently by everyone. The current group of commissioners believe that the character of the island is no more building when they do not like the applicant. We all know the few developers who get a greenlight when they come with a proposal. The commission is a runaway train and no real way to stop it. They can keep evolving and pretty much doing what they like with no controls that is in fact what they’re doing as they are making their own agenda and pushing it on everyone. The commission which use to be a minor cost to the island is now going on $2,000,000 a year to run. It keeps growing and it is no longer a small minor line item in the towns budgets. When does it end? When has a government program proved its usefulness and should be stopped? Just like county government pretty much not needed. But the taxpayers keep funding.

    • The McMansions? The previous owners had no problem cashing the $1.2 million dollar check, which in todays market would be at least double that. This is set to be a private home and they should have every right to build what they can that stays within the town’s building codes. Jim is right in his assessment, the MVC has passed its usefulness. Let the local town officials create concrete guidelines about building and demolition. You can bet that the Look St. project is headed to court too. The MVC’s decisions seem arbitrary, too many private agendas. Too many cooks in the kitchen. When will the towns stop paying their bills with our tax dollars? Pay for the MVC, Land Bank, Short Term Rental Tax, and soon to be housing bank, when will it be too much?

    • It’s not a McMansion. Smaller than most and significantly smaller than what they could build with their acreage.

      Everyone is better served if what’s written is grounded in fact.

  2. While the existing house is not exactly a gem as far as the exterior presentation goes, it’s likely that the replacement of nearly twice the size would be even more of an eyesore.
    There should be a restriction that only allows duplication of existing square footage if any house qualifies as historic in any way, shape, or form.

  3. I grew up in the 60s and 70s staying at the house my grandfather bought on Arlington Avenue within sight of this house slated for demolition. It is truly a wonderful visual reminder of the Vineyard that was. My brother and I missed the opportunity to buy the house our family owned and it has been decades since i’ve visited the island. But I would still hate to see this great old house lost to the whims of people who can never appreciate what the Vineyard used to be before it became “the billionaire’s ghetto.”

    • What a terrible thing to say about a family who has owned this home for 10 years and has worked within the bounds of owning this fragile old home and maintained its usefulness until now.
      They want a winterized home with AC that they can use in the off season….just like everybody else. The house is in dire need of reinforcement, reengineering, and would not hold a new remodel over what is its antique framework…Not everything should be saved.
      For those who believe that they should be able to dictate size to these people whom you know nothing about, the square footage noted in the proposal for rebuild includes the basement (where btw the furnace, utilities, ductwork etc are store) and is a modest recreation on an oversized lot.
      There are so many more critical issues for the MVC to address here than this, and ultimately we need to revisit this 100 year old house situation as so many of us (and you) will be in the same boat eventually.

  4. Do realtors disclose to potential buyers that the age of the house and its potential historic significance will trigger a review by the commission if they have any thoughts of demolition? If not then the realtor is remiss, if they do then the buyer should not be surprised by the commission’s decision.

    • What are the realtors going to disclose? The MVC has shown no consistency in their decisions. The monstrosity by the VH SSA, the denial of the Look St. house, and the approval of this Vineyard Wind on the harbor in VH are proof of that. There are no actual regulations that they follow. It seems arbitrary as to what they will allow and not allow. Don’t you think this will be a burden on those who wish to sell? So this is what the seller has to tell the perspective buyer: You can’t do anything to the house. You are going to pay an extra 4% for the land bank and housing bank. You will likely need to sue the MVC, costing you more money, to do what you want to do. Then you will need to pay a 6% tax if you ever decide to rent it. And this will improve the housing crisis on MV? Stop the madness. Eliminate the land bank, the MVC, and cancel the housing bank. Use the short term rental tax to help the towns regulate their own building regulations and building requirements and then help fund affordable housing. Stop taxing us out of living here. No matter what you say, these taxes will eventually hurt anyone trying to buy a house here to make their primary home.

  5. Stop wasting taxpayer money on commissions that aren’t transparent their definitions of “vineyard character.” Everyone keeps complaining about the housing shortage and all this commission does is deny new builds! Allow reasonable expansion of housing stock and the price of real estate will become more affordable. Econ 101.

  6. Built 1987 from the island was still beautiful none of these trophy houses sold 2 years ago too bad the island has changed so much it’s the same that Mystique of the island is no longer there and the forefathers must be rolling in there graves it’s a same that they can’t these homes of the past.Just call it the Hamptons.

  7. Not understanding the order of things, here is something that puzzles me:
    This is a situation which was not publicized. On Dukes County Avenue, in Oak Bluffs, three parcels of B1 commercial property were purchased by a cabinet maker. His intentions were:
    1. Renovate the existing house on one of the parcels, to create employee housing.
    2. Build a cabinet shop on the other two, including an apprentice partnership with
    The individual started the renovation of the house, gutting the inside, the building inspector of OB condemned the frame of the house, and so the frame was torn down. After the frame was torn down, and the new foundation poured, the MVC stepped in and said the frame should not have been torn down. As a result of the MVC getting involved, the owner of the property decided to build his shop off Island and to sell his property on Dukes County Avenue. The Island loses, an apprentice program, a local business with housing for employees, and ample parking for those employees. How can an individual who wants to build or renovate find out the proper order of things, so this kind of situation can be avoided? This is a loss to the Island in education and local business.

  8. The MVC is mostly living in the “ rear view mirror”. They see houses built over 100 years old as charming and in character. They don’t care if the house can’t be renovated to maintain efficient heating or cooling. The house will be like an old car that is a gas guzzler but it will be in their view “have character”. Where is the trade off to a more efficient energy savings house that will help the environment. There shouldn’t even be a trade off.

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