Penalties, Deadlines Loom Over Builder

By JAMES KINSELLA

Gene Erez was in a hurry to renovate 45 Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs so that the building would be ready for the summer season.

But the Oak Bluffs builder, who ended up demolishing the historic structure without a permit, may be running out of time.

Mr. Erez still is trying to move as quickly as possible to get the necessary permits in hand and start building a structure that will largely replicate the former Army Barracks building, originally constructed in the 1870s.

In 1978, the Oak Bluffs Historical Society assessed the building at 45 Circuit avenue in this way: "This building is significant as an example of early architecture which has remained essentially intact, closely resembling old photos of it taken in the late 1800s."

Now, however, the Erez project is closing in on a town bylaw that prohibits such construction on Circuit avenue after May 15.

Also, the Martha's Vineyard Commission took up review of the project last night. Building inspector Richard Mavro was ordered by selectmen on March 1 to refer the project to the commission.

According to a commission staff summary, the original two-story building housed a retail store and a seasonal four-bedroom apartment. The proposed three-story building would have two retail stores and three year-round apartments: two with two bedrooms and one with one bedroom.

The old Army Barracks building was 2,980 square feet in area. The new building, on a slightly smaller footprint, would increase to 3,566 square feet.

The MVC last night approved the project with conditions.

They essentially called for the project to meet requirements imposed by the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen with an eye toward minimizing disruption in the downtown during the project.

The commission also required Mr. Erez to obtain a certificate of occupancy within 15 months of securing a building permit, and either contribute $1,783 toward affordable housing on the Vineyard or arrange for one of the apartments to become long-term affordable housing.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Erez came before the Oak Bluffs selectmen to update them on the project. He reported that the Oak Bluffs historical commission had approved his architect's design for a new building.

"You'll be very happy," commission member Renee Balter said about the design, which she said received unanimous approval by the commission. "It's very handsome. It will look as good as the original building."

The builder said he also has received permission from the wastewater commission to add a bedroom to the property.

"My goal is to get the two retail spaces open, and finish the building in the fall," said Mr. Erez, who said he planned to complete the shell this spring but not tackle interior work above the first story until after the summer.

Selectman Richard Combra said that Mr. Erez needed to coordinate the work with the police and highway departments, citing public safety concerns.

Board members said they wanted to help move the process along and voted 5-0 to give chairman Roger Wey authority to act on its behalf on the matter between regular board meetings.

But Mr. Combra also pointed out that Mr. Erez's timetable will likely bump up against a town bylaw that bans construction work on Circuit avenue after May 15. He said he believes that Mr. Erez wouldn't be able to finish the project in time.

"That building is not going to be in business this summer," he predicted.

Mr. Combra also questioned how much effort selectmen should expend on Mr. Erez's behalf, given that other businesses in Oak Bluffs are following the town's rules, yet may be affected by the delayed project.

Selectman Kerry Scott also expressed concern about how the work may affect nearby businesses. "It's been a very tough winter for all the businesses on the Island," Ms. Scott said.

The board decided to postpone a discussion on what penalty to assess Mr. Erez for doing work on the original building and then demolishing it without any written permits. Building inspector Richard Mavro has said he had given Mr. Erez a verbal approval to do exploratory interior demolition, but nothing more. Mr. Erez had said he wanted to complete the renovation project by the start of the summer season.

Although Mr. Mavro could fine Mr. Erez up to $300 a day for each day a violation is present, he chose to fine him a total of $300.

Mr. Wey asked Mr. Erez to return to the board's next meeting, on March 29. Mr. Erez said he will be off-Island and agreed to send a representative and his architect to the meeting.