New Oak Bluffs inn granted approval

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted in favor of the proposed Four Sisters Inn.

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A rendering showing the proposed building's north elevation. — Courtesy MVC

A new inn slated for Narragansett Avenue in Oak Bluffs got its approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday evening, following thorough deliberation.

The project, brought to the commission for review by property owners Elizabeth and Harry Marshall, involves the construction of a three-story, 3,920-square-foot building that will serve as a year-round, five-bedroom inn called Four Sisters.

A single-family house believed to have been built in the late 1800s and formerly set on the 0.17-acre lot was demolished in 2004. 

The now vacant lot is located within the Cottage City Historic District, and according to the proposal, the new building will resemble neighboring aesthetics, and be designed in a “Victorian eclectic” architectural style.

Per the application, the new construction “shall be architecturally compatible with the character of the Historic District through the means of scale, mass, proportions, materiality, and intent, while avoiding artificial imitation,” including the building’s “siding and trim, doors and windows, roofs, porches, and balconies, appurtenances, and fixtures.”

The inn will employ five people, including the two owners, who will reside in a one-bedroom apartment onsite.

The commission’s Land Use Planning subcommittee voted to recommend the approval of the proposal back in December, commissioner Doug Sederholm said Thursday. That recommendation is contingent upon seven conditions placed on the project, including the restriction of all food service other than breakfast, which is to be available only to guests staying at the inn.

Due to lack of parking in the area, Four Sisters guests are to be encouraged to rely on alternative methods of transportation, and are to be provided bus passes and bike vouchers. 

Inn owners must install “sound-attenuating fences” around the HVAC condensers and laundry vent, and the building’s drainage plan must be able to withstand a 25-year storm. 

Per the application, energy for the inn will be completely electric, with rooftop solar panels to be installed pending approval by the Cottage City Historic District Commission. 

Upon discussion of a proposed condition restricting all non-guests from attending events at the property, commissioner Fred Hancock suggested a change to the wording to “no events staged on the property.”

“It just feels sometimes like we’re overqualifying these things,” commissioner Kathy Newman said, “and getting into extra conditions … Why can’t we just take their word and let it be?”

Commissioner Linda Sibley noted that specific wording on conditions of projects are necessary in order to allow clarification for people in the future. She said the restriction came to the commission via an offer by the applicants, and not an imposed condition. “This isn’t intrusive,” she said. 

Commissioner Doug Sederholm inquired with property agent Chuck Sullivan whether the event-related condition can act as an agreement, and Sullivan confirmed it could. All other conditions were subsequently approved. 

On the benefits and detriments of the proposal regarding water quality, stormwater, and energy , commissioner Fred Hancock said, “They’re no worse than neutral,” noting that property owners are simply meeting the commission’s policies. Because there’s currently no building on the lot, it’s not necessarily considered an improvement. 

However, in reviewing the inn’s character and identity, he said, “This fits in with the other buildings in this neighborhood … I would say it’s a benefit.” 

Some commissioners raised concerns about the size of the proposed inn. “Other than the Pequot [Hotel],” commissioner Kate Putnam said, “this building is out of scale in terms of sizing, relative to the other houses in the immediate neighborhood.” 

“I just think that’s a little bit of a negative here,” she said.

While it may be larger than some nearby buildings, Hancock said, “it’s not out of keeping with the neighborhood.” He noted that the size of the structure is not inconsistent with the town’s zoning policies.

Sederholm said the new construction will be the fourth largest building within 200 feet. 

“Yes, it’s on the large side,” he said, but built as a private home, the size is acceptable. 

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