MVC Approves Plan to Rebuild Old Inn After Main Street Fire

By JULIA WELLS

Acting with record speed and expressing open compassion regarding the tragic fire that destroyed a historic hotel at the head of Main street in Vineyard Haven four months ago, the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted last week to approve a plan to rebuild the Tisbury Inn.

"The loss of the inn has created an enormous economic hardship - every once in a while it would be nice if we took a look at the bigger picture, and I think this is very important to the town of Tisbury," said commission member Robert Zeltzer.

"This exemplifies the kind of development we want to encourage," said commission member Christina Brown.

"To my eye it looks good," said commission member James Athearn.

Reviewing the inn as a development of regional impact (DRI), the commission held a public hearing last Thursday and, in a rare move, voted on the project the same night.

The MVC has a reputation for exhaustive scrutiny on most development projects, but the Tisbury Inn project was an obvious exception. Among other things the applicant submitted no formal landscape plan, and there were no letters on file from the fire department or the police department about the project.

The project still must be approved at the local level; among other things a special permit is needed from the Tisbury zoning board of appeals.

Owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein plan to rebuild the inn, which dates back to 1884 and was completely destroyed by a fire on Dec. 15. They said last week that they plan to rename the inn the Mansion House, the name of the original hotel that sat on the site. Demolition of the ruined building began early this week.

At the MVC hearing last week, architect David Galler presented the plan to rebuild the inn. Using a series of historic photographs of the old Mansion House as well as an artists's rendering of the new building, Mr. Galler said the plan drew its inspiration from the old hotel.

"We look upon this as an opportunity to actually evoke what the inn used to look like," he said.

The plan would rebuild the inn on the same site, at the head of Main street in Vineyard Haven facing Beach Road, keeping the same number of hotel rooms (32) but expanding the retail and conference space. The old health club will also be rebuilt with a new 75-foot pool replacing the old 40-foot pool.

The building will also be taller, reaching 43 feet not including a cupola that will add an additional 10 feet. A mansard roof will replace the former hip roof, and a fourth floor will be added where there was previously attic space. The old inn was 36 feet high not including its cupola - put another way, the roof of the new building will be four inches lower than the top of the cupola on the old building.

The health club will be located in the basement level, with retail space located in the basement and first floor levels. The exterior of the building will include a wraparound porch on the end of the building that faces Beach Road.

The total size of the new building will be 47,713 square feet, an increase of 22 per cent over the old building, which was 39,000 square feet.

"This is going to be a formidable structure. It is not small and it is going to look different than it does now - it is going to be formidable," commission staff planner and DRI coordinator Jennifer Rand told the commission.

Kate Warner, a member of the commission who is also an architect, questioned the scale of the building. "I would like to know how the new height relates to the other buildings on the street," she said, noting that the architect's drawings did not show any of the other buildings in the area, including the Brickman's building across the street.

Pointing to the historic photographs of the old Mansion House, Ms. Warner said in fact the architect had not been faithful to the scale of the old building. "You're promoting the Mansion House, but this looks like the way the Seaview [an old hotel in Oak Bluffs] was renovated," she said, adding: "It's a big building and I think it's a bit much for the scale of the street."

But other members of the commission said they were comfortable with the size.

"I think the massing is good," said commission chairman James Vercruysse.

In the end, the commission voted to approve the project with four conditions, including a requirement for the owners to plant a Zelkova elm tree on the corner; some commission members reasoned that a large tree would help to break up the mass of the building.

In the roll call vote on the project the following members of the commission voted yes: James Athearn, John Best, Christina Brown, Marcia Cini, Michael Donaroma, Jennie Greene, Tristan Israel, Megan Ottens-Sargent, Ken Rusczyk, Linda Sibley, Richard Toole, James Vercruysse, Roger Wey, Andrew Woodruff and Robert Zeltzer.

Kate Warner abstained.

Mr. Galler said foundation work for the project is expected to begin this summer; the building is expected to be finished by May of 2003.

The plan also calls for reopening the restaurant Zephrus this summer. The restaurant is the only part of the inn that was not destroyed in the fire.

The Goldsteins said they plan to keep room rates at about $85 a night in the off-season, although some of the newer suites will rent for much higher prices in season. The Goldsteins said they house three of their employees at the inn and they cited this as their contribution to affordable housing.

Mr. Goldstein also said the Vietnam monument now located on the triangular corner in front of the inn will need to be relocated. He said a number of ideas for relocating the monument are under discussion with the veterans committee that built the monument.

In other business, the commission also approved the written decision for an expansion and renovation project at the Martha's Vineyard Arena.

The project includes a plan to add locker rooms and shower facilities to the popular Island ice rink. The commission approved the project with no conditions at a meeting three weeks ago. "This is a project with only benefits and no detriments," said commission member Linda Sibley at the time. "I believe the area is a core habitat for champion hockey players," quipped arena president Brion McGroarty.

In the roll call vote the following members of the commission voted yes: James Athearn, John Best, Christina Brown, Marcia Cini, Michael Donaroma, Jennie Greene, Tristan Israel, Megan Ottens-Sargent, Ken Rusczyk, Linda Sibley, James Vercruysse, Roger Wey, Andrew Woodruff and Robert Zeltzer.

Also last week, members of the commission agreed to plan some kind of open community meeting to help educate the public about the commission, in the aftermath of the recent vote by the town of Oak Bluffs to take the first steps to withdraw from the commission.

"I want people to feel like they can come and ask questions about the commission; I think there needs to be more understanding about what we do," said Mr. Vercruysse, who suggested the meeting. "I'd like to schedule something where people can come out and talk and I'd like to keep the doors open," he said.

The suggestion sparked more discussion about how to structure the meeting. In the end the commission decided to begin with a frank discussion among its own members, and it was agreed that the regular meeting of the commission on April 25 will be devoted to the internal discussion.

"It is important for the commission to get together and talk about this," said Mrs. Sibley. "It's clear that we are all grappling with the same problem."