Uncas Avenue housing project goes to MVC

The number of planned units and the age of the property triggered the regional entities review.

The Oak Bluffs Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted to refer the proposed 3 Uncas Avenue project to the Martha's Vineyard Commission. —Eunki Seonwoo

A contentious Oak Bluffs project will be headed to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review. 

Developer and business owner Robert Sawyer is pursuing a comprehensive permit under Chapter 40B to demolish a historic building at 3 Uncas Ave. and construct a mixed-use building. His plans are to build eight workforce housing units, two of which will be for families at or below 80 percent of the area median income; six will be marketed to “Vineyard working folks.” 

According to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the 80 percent median income for a family of four in 2023 is $100,150. Residents of the units will need to be required to be year-round Islanders; no investors or short-term rentals will be allowed. The project will also include 350 square feet of commercial space. 

The 1874 building is listed in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System and located within both the Cottage City Historic District and the Copeland Plan district. 

The project had been denied before by the Copeland Plan District review board, and the applicant unsuccessfully appealed the denial in court.

Additionally, the project’s Chapter 40B application was approved by MassHousing in April, which means 25 percent of the housing units will need to be allocated to individuals and families with 80 percent of the area median income. But this approval will expire in two years if the project hasn’t started.

Although a public hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, July 25, with the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals, board chair Lou Rogers said a couple of details regarding the application triggered a need to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The project has five or more units, and the proposed demolition and exterior alterations would be occurring on a structure over 100 years old, triggering the commission’s review. 

The board unanimously approved referring the project to the commission, and voted to continue the public hearing until after the regional entity reviews the project.

No public comments were taken during the Tuesday public hearing. When Cottage City Historic District Commission chair Matthew Cramer asked when public comments would be taken by the board, Rogers said they will solicit feedback from the public after the applicant’s commission review. Board member Jonathan Holton said comments will likely be possible during the commission’s process, also. 

Rogers also pointed out that the application is subject to change based on what the Martha’s Vineyard Commission determines. “It all depends on what they have to go through,” he said. 

Cramer said he was at the hearing as a “concerned citizen,” on top of being a member of the historic district commission. He said it isn’t the first time this 40B application had come before them for a comprehensive permit. Cramer said Sawyer withdrew a 40B application to the historic commission three years ago. 

“We just want to be sure we’re included in this process,” Cramer said, later adding that his commission reached out to town counsel for procedural advice. 

Cramer told The Times several concerns have arisen regarding the project, including the preservation of the area’s character.


  1. Other then being old, can someone explain what makes this house historic? Please give something that actually happened there, not the usual claptrap about “architectural detail” That can very easily be replicated. I do it on a regular basis.

      • You’ve never seen my work, so you have no idea whether it’s cheesy or not. But it assure you, it’s not. We’ve all seen your constant nonsensical comments, jump from side to side depending one which side you think offers a better chance for a shot. Your comments are what I would refer to as cheesy. As well as sophomoric.

        • I was not referring to you.
          I was referring to “knockoffs”, new builds made to look old – cheesy.
          Cheesy, something made to like what it is not.
          All points of view have some validity, even yours.
          Thank you reading my comments, and responding.

  2. All houses over 100 years old should not be saved, based on that alone. And Jim Donovan, I agree with you. The 100+-year-old house that I used to own and which demolition is being currently held up, I understand from the current owner, is one such house. In fact, judged by the mayhem that occurred there, not all that historically, it should be torn down as a gift to its previous inhabitants. Perhaps the criteria for preserving older houses should be studiously reviewed by people who have to live near them.

    • Who should get to decide which houses should be saved?
      A contractor that specializes in knock offs (a nail pounder)?
      How about a person who has studied the history of the Island.?

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