Controversial Edgartown house heads to public hearing

A new, single plan will be drawn up by the architect.

A render of the viewshed for 81 South Water Street. —Courtesy Town of Edgartown

The architect for the controversial renovation of 81 South Water St., which would be a residence of investor David Malm, is still finalizing plans for the project.

On Thursday, the Edgartown Historic District Commission unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing to review site plans. 

The project has caught abutters’ attention due to worries that the renovations would block a view to Edgartown Harbor, among other concerns. A rally was held in downtown Edgartown where Patrick Ahearn, the architect of the project, met with residents and explained his intentions with the project. 

Although a public hearing was initially planned for the Thursday meeting, commission co-chair Julia Tarka said it will be postponed because the applicants submitted a new application. Additionally, Tarka said the many letters submitted to the commission regarding the project, which add up to a 115-page PDF document, will be kept as a part of the public record. 

Forty-nine people were in attendance Thursday. 

“Every commissioner still has every letter available to them, and as commissioners we read all of that correspondence,” Tarka said. 

Before Ahearn began his presentation of the new plans, he went over a narrative to dispel “myths and misconceptions” about the project. He said that some people thought the original plans would block the “entire view corridor.”

Ahearn also emphasized that he hopes to move forward to the public hearing with information that is “accurate, fair, and honest,” and not “misconstrued in a public forum and debated on the sidewalk.” 

“I don’t believe that a discourse on the sidewalk is a way to represent projects before the historic district commission; that’s what your process is for,” Ahearn said.

Ahearn presented three possible routes the renovations could take. He said each alternative addresses different concerns he heard from neighbors, such as lowering the ridge of the north addition by three feet, and “expressing” the house’s roofline, and moving the house to “respect” elements of the 1912 house.

Ahearn also explained that the original property underwent several “significant changes” since its 1912 version, shown through photos comparing the original building and its current, larger version.

The commission was in consensus that a public hearing would be necessary. However, the document commissioners possessed did not showcase three design options as Ahearn’s presentation did, so they did not have the opportunity to review the details prior to the meeting. Ahearn said the new document was submitted “shortly before” the meeting. 

Tarka said the new document will need to be made available for commissioners and the public. 

Commissioners expressed some concerns over the presented plans. The commissioners also felt that they needed time to look over the plans before a decision was made. 

Commission co-chair Peter Rosbeck was concerned that added landscaping could impact the views, although the commission did not have jurisdiction over this. He said he would also refrain from asking many questions, since he did not get a chance to see the three alternatives in full. 

Commissioner Susan Catling said she had “a number of concerns,” such as moving the building or attaching the garage to the house. That could create massing (the three-dimensional form of the building) issues. 

Commissioner Carole Berger agreed that the garage should not be attached to the house. Berger also said “proper staging” will be needed for a site visit. “The last site visit did not have anything that would give you an idea of the massing,” Berger said. 

Commissioner Ken Magnunson said while he was not against moving the house, he was not in favor of a swimming pool fence that was essentially a clear wall. He also said more time would be needed to look over the alternative plans. 

Commissioner Cari Williamson made a point that while the building has components that may not be considered historic, it was located on a “historic site.” 

Tarka asked Ahearn to return to the board with a single plan that took into account the public and commissioners’ comments, to be reviewed for the public hearing. Ahearn said he was allowed to present varying design versions during the commission’s public hearings for previous projects, but Tarka said a single plan would allow for better feedback from abutters

Ahearn pushed to have more than one plan for the public hearing to address varying concerns, pointing out that there wasn’t consensus among commissioners. 

After the vote, Ahearn went into further discussion with commissioners about their concerns, including to what extent the commission was trying to preserve the building, considering the changes the house already experienced in the 1950s, 1961, and 2001. 

Ahearn has until Thursday, June 15, to submit the plan. If Ahearn feels more time is needed, he can notify the commission by this date to postpone the public hearing. The next meeting date the commission is available for a public hearing is July 6. 


  1. How many houses is developer Malm claiming to be his primary residence? He made the same claim for a property he purchased on Bay View rd in Katama three months ago when all the abutters complained about his plan for a pool, spa and cabana. His application was refused by the town. Looks like he’s looking for another primary residence despite his current location in Herring Creek. Maybe there’s another property in his portfolio of vineyard home’s estimated in the Wall Street Journal as totaling over $ 100 million. When is enough enough?

  2. Thank you Brian Carty, I couldn’t agree more.
    This isn’t the Hamptons. If that’s what Mr. Malm wants, then you have many people who would recommend you seek that option.

  3. Can the newspaper at least explain how and what authority does a town board able to preserve a public view over private property?

    I’m really curious to see this!

    • It is an historic district, and historically there are large homes and small homes in the district so they have control over the size and scope of these homes. When you buy into an historic district, you have to obey by their rules.

  4. According to press reports, David Malm is on a spending spree buying luxury real estate around the globe, including spending $17.5M at a new development in Mexico; $12.5M for a townhouse in Palm Beach; and 20 million pounds for three luxury apartments in London. I can’t think of a better argument for doing away with the carried interest loophole that enables hedge fund and private equity executives like Malm to enrich themselves in such an obscene way. Carried interest is taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income—less than the tax rate nurses and teachers pay.

  5. Money talks. From what they did to the Harbor View, to the Kelley House and now private residences. The Vineyard charm is no longer.

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