Up-Island restarting senior center planning

The West Tisbury select board discussed going back to the public for input before moving forward with Howes House.

A rendering of what the Howes House expansion could have looked like. —Courtesy Town of West Tisbury

The renovation of the up-Island senior center seems to be hitting pause again.

Members of the West Tisbury Select Board agreed this week that they should slow down on the Howes House renovation plans, and go back to square one, gathering input from the public and accessing the area’s needs, and even consider looking for a new location for a center.

West Tisbury, along with Aquinnah and Chilmark, has been working to renovate the shared Council on Aging’s Howes House building since 2021. But there have been concerns over a lack of communication, how the three towns would split the estimated $10 million project, and, most recently, members of the West Tisbury Historic district commission say the proposed expansion and renovation of Howes House would be far too big for its location within the historic district.

The State Road building is about 6,000 square feet, with a basement and two floors; the proposed project would expand that to about 10,000 square feet, also with a basement and two floors.

Sean Conley, chair of the historic district commission, wrote a letter to the group overseeing the project, the Howes House building committee, saying the commission can’t approve the proposal because of the size, saying it doesn’t fit with the character of the district.

Others concerned about the historic nature of the village opposed the proposed designs as well. “A building of this size in the center of the historic village of West Tisbury is not acceptable,” West Tisbury resident Linda Hearn wrote in a letter to the district commission. “It looks like a condominium building outside a large city.”

The lack of progress has led at least one member of the building committee to step aside. Kathy Logue recently announced she would be resigning. In a letter to the West Tisbury Select Board, she cited a lack of willingness of members to reach a consensus.

“I find that I cannot continue to devote the amount of time to it that the project deserves, particularly in light of the unproductive nature of our recent meetings with representatives of other town boards and committees, and the apparent unwillingness to move constructively toward consensus,” Logue wrote in her resignation letter. 

The frustration has spilled into the public as well. West Tisbury resident Richard Knabel also wrote to the select board, calling the project an example of “mission creep.” He recommended that the select board start over, despite all the hard work that’s gone into the project. 

“For many reasons, the project should be restarted with a different building committee and architects, difficult as I realize that is at this point,” Knabel wrote. “The lack of enthusiasm for a $10 million project from both Chilmark and Aquinnah, and many W.T. voters as well, should be reason enough, but not the only reason, that proceeding with the current proposal is a mistake.”

The West Tisbury Select Board seemed to hear Knabel and Logue. Its discussion on Wednesday started with thinking about new locations for a shared Council on Aging. Select board chair Skipper Manter proposed a building recently vacated by Island Gymnastics.

But other members said that even looking for new locations at this point is jumping the gun. “This project has taken so many left turns, it doesn’t know where it’s going,” Jessica Miller said. She suggested going back to the beginning to start collecting input from the public through a listening session. There was also a discussion about separating the planned community center from the Council on Aging building. 

“We need to stop for the time being until we have a better sense of vision,” Miller said.

The board agreed to work on scheduling a listening session to gain input from the public.



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