Lookout Tavern Expansion Plan Triggers Commission Referral

By IAN FEIN

The Oak Bluffs building inspector last week referred the proposed demolition and expansion of the Lookout Tavern on Sea View avenue extension to the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a potential development of regional impact (DRI).

The commission will decide in the weeks ahead whether to hold a public hearing and review the project as a DRI.

The referral comes more than one month after the restaurant owners filed for a special permit from the town zoning board of appeals to tear down and expand the preexisting nonconforming structure, which first opened in 1999. The zoning board twice held public hearings on the project, continuing it both times. Zoning board administrator Adam Wilson said this week that he was unaware the project could qualify as a DRI.

The zoning board review of the project had been scheduled to continue last night, but was put on hold until the commission concludes its review. The Cottage City historical commission last week approved the Lookout project in its present form, though it may have to go back for another look depending on the MVC or zoning board decisions.

According to the building permit and zoning board applications, the owners of the Lookout Tavern want to increase its occupancy from 90 people to 130. The new building would keep roughly the same footprint, with a small extension in the back constituting about a 25 per cent increase in total space. The proposed building height would increase from roughly 22 feet to 28 feet.

Building inspector Jerry Wiener referred the project to the commission after selectman Kerry Scott brought to his attention that it triggered the commission's DRI checklist as a proposed expansion of a restaurant outside of the town's main business district. The checklist trigger required that the town refer the project to the MVC, although it leaves open the possibility that the commission might choose not to identify the project as a DRI.

Ms. Scott and Mr. Wiener said yesterday that the project could have been referred to the commission sooner, but that they believe the process worked appropriately. They both said they are glad that the project is going before the commission for a preliminary review.

The Lookout Tavern is on one of about 10 parcels in the North Bluff neighborhood identified by the town of Oak Bluffs as a B-2 zoning district. The designation is intended to create a buffer between the regular B-1 business district and surrounding R-1 residential zone.

Mr. Wiener said that the B-2 designation for the project makes it a delicate town decision, which will be alleviated by a MVC review.

"I kind of like that everything is coming out on the table," said Mr. Wiener, who took over the reins in Oak Bluffs last summer after the resignation of former inspector Richard Mavro. "I wanted to give it a life of its own. The commission is regional by nature - which means more input, more people. It is a tool that helps the process along."

The North Bluff neighborhood is no stranger to controversy. The most notable zoning dispute involved the Joseph G. Moujabber property, where a three-story garage was built in open violation of town zoning bylaws. Under pressure from all sides, Mr. Mavro finally issued a demolition order for the garage last December. The town is moving ahead to enforce the demolition, although the dispute is still tangled in legal proceedings.

The Lookout Tavern sits around the corner from the Moujabber garage.

Belleruth Naparstek, president of the North Bluff Neighborhood Homeowner's Association, which formed to lead the charge against the Moujabber garage, said this week that she too was pleased the Lookout project would go to the commission.

"That's probably where it belongs," Mrs. Naparstek said from her home in Ohio. "The commission, more than any other regulatory body, is charged with seeing to the holistic health of the entire community - and that's what is critically important here. We have to really watch out. If we're going to protect this community, we have to look at things in context and not just as individual projects."

Ms. Scott said she thinks the commission should take up the project as a DRI.

"Sea View avenue is certainly a regional resource because it's right there at the entrance to Oak Bluffs," she said. "We recognize that this is a neighborhood under siege. At town meeting last year, we voted to add the North Bluff neighborhood to the [Cottage City] historic district, which shows this is a section of Oak Bluffs that matters not just to people who live there - but to the entire town."

Project architect William C. Sullivan yesterday chose not to comment on the referral to the commission, deferring questions to the owners of the restaurant. The owners through Mr. Sullivan did not return a request for comment.

Mr. Sullivan also serves as a member of the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals, which raises the question of whether he is in violation of the state conflict of interest law.

According to the state ethics commission, the conflict of interest law prohibits town board members from representing a third party in a matter pending before their own board, even if they abstain from participation. Mr. Sullivan did not participate as a zoning board member in the Lookout public hearings, though as project architect he did represent the tavern owners.

Mr. Sullivan said yesterday that the Lookout was not the first project he brought before the zoning board, and that the board in the past had expressed it did not feel he had a conflict in such matters. He acknowledged, however, that neither he, nor the zoning board to his knowledge, sought advice from or filed a public disclosure with the state ethics commission.