Selectmen Order Referral to MVC

Illegal Teardown of Old Army Barracks Now Goes to Commission as a DRI; Building Owner Answers to Board

By JAMES KINSELLA

The Oak Bluffs selectmen directed their town building inspector this week to refer the reconstruction of the old Army Barracks building on Circuit avenue to the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

At their meeting Tuesday night, the selectmen voted 4-0 to require building inspector Richard Mavro to refer the proposed project to the MVC. Selectman Richard Combra was absent.

The vote is among the latest developments in the aftermath of the February demolition of the old building at 45 Circuit avenue. Owner Gene Erez demolished the building, which was about 130 years old, without a permit.

In a Feb. 22 letter, following an inquiry from Mr. Mavro, the MVC coordinator for developments of regional impact (DRI), Paul Foley, wrote that the project should come before the commission.

Mr. Mavro still had not referred the project as of Tuesday afternoon. Board chairman Roger Wey said he did not know why Mr. Mavro had not done so. Mr. Mavro did not attend Tuesday's board meeting.

But the following day the referral was hand delivered to the commission by Mr. Mavro's assistant.

The project qualifies as a DRI on two fronts: as the demolition of a historic building, and also as a development in a commercial district that includes the demolition of a structure larger than 2,000 square feet. The Army Barracks was 2,980 square feet.

The MVC will take up the referral at its March 17 meeting.

Mr. Wey also has scheduled a discussion for March 15, when the selectmen will discuss a possible penalty for Mr. Erez, who began renovating and later took down the building with no building or demolition permits.

On Feb. 15 the selectmen directed Mr. Mavro to enforce the town's historic building bylaw against Mr. Erez "to the fullest extent possible." The bylaw allows fines up to $300 a day for each day that a violation exists. Mr. Mavro fined Mr. Erez $300.

Selectmen are now contemplating further penalties against Mr. Erez. One option includes creating an escrow fund for the benefit of the town, using money from Mr. Erez.

Mr. Erez now plans to obtain a permit to put in a foundation as a safety measure at the property, which is in the heart of downtown Oak Bluffs. The foundation would have the same footprint as the demolished structure. Mr. Wey warned Mr. Erez he would want to see the permit posted at the site before any foundation work occurs.

Mr. Erez also has been meeting with the Oak Bluffs historical commission to discuss the design of the new structure, which the commission wants to closely resemble the demolished structure.

On Tuesday selectman Kerry Scott raised concerns about the relative lack of documentation in the affair. In a Feb. 15 letter to the selectmen, Mr. Mavro said he had given Mr. Erez "a verbal" to perform exploratory demolition. Mr. Wey instructed Mr. Erez to provide the board of selectmen with copies of all his filings in connection with the project.

"You're going to be right in the sights," Mr. Wey said. "The burden is on you. From now on, we need copies of all this stuff. We'll try to do what we can to expedite things."

Selectman Greg Coogan agreed. "Every eye in town is on you at the moment. None of us want to see that hole there," he said.

Ms. Scott said if the project had been referred to the MVC last fall as required Mr. Erez would have been finished with the process and would not now be facing any delay.

She said John Breckenridge, an Oak Bluffs resident who serves on the commission, had reached out to Mr. Mavro as the project was getting under way offering the commission's assistance. She said Mr. Mavro did not respond.

Mr. Mavro's appointment as building inspector expires in April 2006. Last year, the town paid him $50,419. He has been employed as the town building inspector since April 1989.

On Tuesday Mr. Erez told the board there is one positive outcome: now the new building will be closer to the town's wishes than the renovation he initially planned.

But Ms. Scott wasn't buying it. "The MVC would have absolutely conditioned this building," she said.

Ms. Scott said she is mindful the episode has caused problems for other people, including Holly Nadler, who had planned to move her business, Sun Porch Books, to the new building.

But Ms. Scott said Mr. Erez opened himself up to the difficulties he is now experiencing.

"This is what you get when you screw around with rules and regulations in Oak Bluffs," she told him.