Commission Rejects Hotel Plan for Second Time in One Year

By IAN FEIN

Citing the need to contain increased commercial use in an eclectic residential neighborhood at the fringe of the Oak Bluffs business district, the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted last week to deny a proposed expansion to a small inn and tennis center on New York avenue.

The 9-0 vote marked the second time in 12 months for the commission to turn down Jack E. Robinson's plan to expand his Martha's Vineyard Hotel & Racquet Club.

The expansion was the only development of regional impact (DRI) the commission denied in 2004 and so far is the commission's only denial in 2005.

"Although the bed and breakfast there now certainly fits in with the neighborhood, and was spoken of as a good neighbor, the expansion . . . . becomes a commercial activity outside of what I think is beneficial," said commission member Christina Brown of Edgartown just before the vote last Thursday night. "What you have there now is a lively addition to the summer activities of Oak Bluffs, and I think it's entirely appropriate. It's the expansion of it that I am concerned about," she added.

Last year Mr. Robinson proposed a 19-room expansion to the 11 bedrooms currently on the property. Following a divided 7-3 vote to deny the project almost exactly one year ago, several commission members suggested that Mr. Robinson return with a scaled-back version.

Mr. Robinson, 79, a longtime Oak Bluffs resident and the former head of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, this year proposed adding 10 bedrooms to the property. But apparently he did not scale the project back far enough.

"Although it is a substantially scaled-down proposal from the one we saw a year ago, it's still almost doubling in size the operation and rentable units," said commission member Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark. "And I think that's too much for the character of the neighborhood."

Commission members said on Thursday that the proposed expansion would be out of scale with the other businesses on New York avenue. Along with private homes, the neighborhood includes a church, real estate company, gas station, a tarot card reader, a bait shop, a bookstore and other inns.

"It's a mixed-residential neighborhood with small businesses in small buildings that used to be houses," said Mrs. Brown. "But an expanded 15-room hotel exceeds what is, I think, the expected or ordinarily associated effect on a residential neighborhood."

A number of commission members said last week that the architectural plans submitted for the project violated building codes as proposed. They said they could not determine the building's visual impact to the streetscape without seeing better plans.

"I've never looked at a plan like this at the commission before that was so unworkable and said ‘Okay, we'll approve this and let them draw plans that will work and bring them back in,' " said commission member John Best of Tisbury. "This idea isn't so bad, but it's not going to look like this. So how can I think about it?"

Mr. Sederholm agreed with Mr. Best about the quality of the plans, but had his own take on the aesthetics of the design.

"I think these plans are woefully inadequate, and as presented to us the building can't be built," Mr. Sederholm said. "And I got to tell you, it's hard to say what this will really look like from what we've been presented. But from what I can see . . . I think it's really ugly, and I don't think it's going to add to the character of the neighborhood."

Mr. Sederholm also noted that Mr. Robinson had not complied with prior conditions about parking and lighting that the commission imposed on the tennis center when it was first approved as a development of regional impact (DRI) in 1991.

Prior to 1991, Mr. Robinson operated the club without town permits for almost four years. It was the subject of more than one lawsuit.

Mr. Robinson last Thursday expressed frustration with the commission's review.

"With this kind of an operation, with this kind of an attitude from the commission, it would be absolutely impossible for me to complete this process," Mr. Robinson said. "I have revised the plan at least eight times at your suggestion. I have done everything that you asked, including things I never should have done - such as given you the names and addresses of the members of my tennis club," he added.

"And even now as you reject this, as it is your responsibility to reject me at your pleasure, you still do not tell me exactly what I can and cannot do," Mr. Robinson said. "It's relatively obvious that I'm dealing with a force that cannot be couched in an objective manner."