Oak Bluffs ‘eyesore’ to remain if demo doesn’t happen

Property owner plans to build eight workforce housing units, contingent upon demolition approval.

Inspection finds that 3 Uncas Ave. is 'not suitable for human habitation,' —MV Times

Owners of a dilapidated Oak Bluffs house are continuing to fight their case in court for approval to demolish the structure, in order to build eight affordable housing units. 

A May 1 ruling by a Dukes County Superior Court judge effectively upholds the project’s denial, which was made last year by the Copeland Plan District Review Board.

The title owner of 3 Uncas Ave., Robert Sawyer, who’s been pleading his case for over a year, says not only is the house uninhabitable as is, but the denial of the demolition is preventing the construction of eight workforce housing units. 

In April, a Chapter 40B application was approved for the 3 Uncas Ave. lot by MassHousing. Under 40B, property owners are required to allocate 25 percent of the housing units for individuals and families with 80 percent of area median income (AMI).

But that approval will expire in two years if the project fails to get underway by then. 

Regarding current litigation, Sawyer said there are only two outcomes: “[The town] lets us demolish the building so we can create eight new workforce housing units,” or, he said, “the building that you see today — that boarded-up eyesore — just remains there.”

“It’s no more complicated than that,” he added.

In addition to needing approval from the Copeland board, the project will likely need approval from the Cottage City Historic District commission and the Oak Bluffs historic commission. Sawyer calls it “triple jeopardy.” 

The project would also require permits from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the zoning board of appeals, along with obtaining a demolition permit — requirements that Sawyer says muddle the review processes, as there’s too much oversight. 

The house has been listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), a database for historically or culturally significant places. The property is within both the Cottage City Historic District and the Copeland Plan district, and is estimated to have been built in 1874 as part of the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Co. development. 

Those designations suggest that the house holds some significance, whether it be architecturally, culturally, or historically. According to MACRIS, 3 Uncas is considered “significant” in terms of architecture and “recreation.”

Still, an inspection of the house last year by engineer John Lolley for Sawyer found excessive deficiencies in the existing structure, including unstable floors, deteriorated and cracked mortar and foundation walls, rotting sills, “obvious” water damage to the roof, attic, and basement, leaking, and mold throughout the interior. “[The] main house is in overall deteriorated structural condition,” the report reads.

The engineer’s assessment concluded that the 3 Uncas Ave. structure “is not suitable for human habitation and should be demolished.”

Despite those findings, which were made available to the Copeland board, the unanimous September denial cited Sawyer’s project as “an elective demolition,” and not appropriate, as “it does not meet the requirements of Copeland.”

Additionally, Copeland’s rejection states that they were unable to review the proposed housing units and plans associated.

The May 1 ruling by Judge Douglas Wilkins, which denied Sawyer’s motion for partial summary judgment, means those building plans won’t be considered in the case.

But Sawyer says despite the roadblocks, of which there have been many, he’s not willing to give up just yet. 

“You can’t go anywhere or read anything without being exposed to the housing crisis on the Vineyard,” Sawyer said in an interview with The Times. “The community needs these housing units,” he said. “They’re not a panacea, but we need them like we need air to breathe.” 

The application and legal processes have been time-consuming, expensive, and often frustrating, he said. But “we’re going to keep on trying.” 


  1. A long time ago I used to joke with my kids that when I die and leave the house to them, they needed to sell it to someone with a bulldozer. Guess they’re going to need a lot more than that, huh? It was built in 1870, if I remember correctly.

  2. Seems like a threat, perhaps the town responds with some eminent domain discussion?

  3. How did a historic house become an eyesore?
    Through neglect.
    Should that be rewarded with development approval?
    Lots of questions unasked in this report.

  4. This folks is why affordable housing isn’t’ being built because of the layers of control !

      • Does the island need teachers, nurses, bank tellers, town staff, trash collectors, etc? Those are the people we’re losing. And I wouldn’t call them poor.

      • Yes. None of the rich people want to be gas station attendants, grocery store workers, shelf stockers, house cleaners, postal workers, etc

      • Albert –The island needs more working people.
        It would probably be better if they didn’t live in carboard boxes on Circuit Ave.
        Of course, they could set up an encampment at 3 Uncas Ave
        It probably has enough land to pretty comfortably set up 30 tents outside, and at least 5 on the deck.
        I think if Mr. Sawyer allowed that on his property, the town would be happy to issue a permit for demolition pretty quickly.
        I am serious, Mr. Sawyer– as long as you do not allow people inside the condemned building, they can’t do Jack about it.

  5. Bet if he was a selectmen this wouldn’t be an issue. Try running for public office then you can pretty much do what you wanna do.

  6. If it means at least 8 more teachers, nurses, IT experts, physical therapists, firefighters, police officers, office workers, roofers, heavy equipment operators, etcetera and their families can have reasonably priced housing, I say tear it down.

  7. Doesn’t leaving it as is create a hazard for the entire neighborhood? You would think that that would be a top consideration.

  8. To R Scott Patterson.

    Scott, Really? We have a useless boarded up 9per order of Town) dilapidated house in downtown Oak Bluffs and this community desperately needs workforce/employee housing like we need air to breathe. Would you give up or fight for what is right and needed/

  9. To R Scott Patterson, Really? We have a useless boarded up 9per order of Town) dilapidated house in downtown Oak Bluffs and this community desperately needs workforce/employee housing like we need air to breathe. Would you give up or fight for what is right and needed/

  10. To Geraldine Brooks, not neglect. We bought this dilapidated building in 2018 and it was built inexpensively and never occupied year-round and hard had no consequential improvements in 50 years. WE need this workforce/employee house. Please support our effort.

  11. To Ken Ward, what has that to do with our critical need for workforce/employee housing? BTW, I was a public official for 20 years. Please support this desperately needed new housing.

Comments are closed.