Bank Branch Approved

By COLE LOUISON

The Edgartown National Bank cleared the final hurdle last week for building a new drive-through bank branch in place of the MV Auto Bath on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road in Tisbury.

The Tisbury zoning board of appeals voted unanimously to approve the project after a three-hour public hearing in the town hall annex last Thursday night.

"If we're not allowed to establish a bank, the present owner will modernize the facility," said Russell Bowes Jr., chief executive officer of Edgartown National Bank. "You can have a new, upgraded car wash for the next 20 years or a small little building with a bank in it. We feel the choice is clear," he added.

Many others who attended the hearing agreed.

The car wash is a preexisting, nonconforming commercial use in a residential neighborhood, which means it is grandfathered because the structure was built before zoning.

The Tisbury planning board has opposed the project from the outset, saying that it is not consistent with the intent of the zoning bylaw, which is to keep business and residential districts separate. The bylaw gives the town zoning board of appeals the power to allow a single preexisting nonconforming use to replace another, but only if the board feels the new use will have less impact on the area than the previous one.

Last week the zoning board agreed unanimously that the impact of the bank branch will be less than the car wash.

Board member Victor Pisano noted the support for the project from abutters.

"It's not so much that they're saying, ‘We want this bank,' it's that they're saying, ‘We would like a change from what it is now,' " he said.

"The bank is definitely going to look nicer than the car wash," said board member Susan Fairbanks. "I like the fact that the project has been decreased in size. There will be less noise than at the car wash. The landscaping will be better. I like the fact that a lot of the parking is at the rear of the building," she added.

"You've got high lights versus lights that are blocked a little bit and lower to the ground," said zoning board chairman Frank Piccione, offering an example of why the bank's proposal was more visually pleasing than the car wash. "I hate to say ‘no brainer,' because this took a lot of thought. It's less objectionable to the character of the neighborhood," he said.

Board member comments echoed abutters and area residents, who spoke in support of the project throughout the evening. Many said they favored both a nearby drive-through bank branch and a single-story white building with a fence and shrubs over the present structure on the property.

"I can't see how this would be anything other than a benefit to the community, said John Carey, a resident of West Tisbury.

"I have a tough time getting to the bank on workdays," said Island Pizza's owner William Craffy, who sided with the idea of having a drive-through. "This branch would be a benefit to me.

"What they're doing with the property as opposed to what's there is going to be much better for the neighborhood," he added.

The project had its opponents, and they were also vocal on Thursday night.

Speaking as a Tisbury citizen, Ken Barwick, who is also the town building and zoning inspector, insisted that a decision to permit the bank project would bring more businesses into residential zones.

"To consider this is totally against the grain of the bylaw," he said. "There are other properties in the town where this proposal would do nicely. I am hoping, in this particular process, the bank will consider a more appropriate location. I am recommending to this board strongly that they deny this applicant's proposal."

"Why is the bank trying to shoehorn this commercial enterprise in a residential district?" asked planning board member Michael Hall. "It's not allowed, except for grandfather clauses."

"The new use is commercial, too; it's not a reduction. This will be a license for a nonconforming use not only to be able to expand, but to change without limit," he added.

The bank project has been pending for the last year.

In February 2000, the project was referred to the Martha's Vineyard Commission for review as a development of regional impact (DRI), since it involves new construction of commercial space larger than 2,400 square feet.

In early March, the MVC voted 5-4 to deny the plan. Two weeks later, the commission met again, and voted 5-5 to reconsider the project. The split vote left the status of the bank's project uncertain. Reconsideration of a DRI is allowed under MVC rules, but is very rare. The commission's choice to reconsider on March 23 marked only the fifth time in its 25-year history that the group had reconsidered a DRI.

In April, bank chief executive officer Russell Bowes Jr. asked the commission to postpone any action on the project until the bank's board of directors met to reshape the current project's proposal "in such a fashion as to be more acceptable to the members."

In late August, the MVC saw a revised proposal for the new bank, which scaled down the building from 2,400 to 1,500 square feet, eliminating a conference room and safety deposit vault. The commission voted to approve the project as a DRI on Sept. 21.

After the commission's approval, the project went before the zoning board, the last hurdle the bank needed to clear in order to begin reconstruction.

The bank is now waiting for the 20-day appeals period to expire, and then will apply for a building permit from the town. The new project could be completed by early spring of 2002, but the date is tentative, Mr. Bowes said.