After months of discussion, work is beginning on a multi-phase project to move a Chappaquiddick house threatened by erosion, with the Edgartown planning board this week approving the relocation of a guest house on the Wasque property.
The move of Richard and Jennifer Schifter’s more than 8,000-square-foot main house and other buildings has been a topic of debate around the Island and at town hall, where the planning board, conservation commission, residents and a team of engineers and specialists have balanced the increasing urgency posed by the encroaching bluff with concerns about how the move would impact the fragile environment and small community on Chappaquiddick.
Engineers working on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Schifter propose moving the house, guest house and garage, as well as a neighboring house (the so-called Leland house) that the family purchased to make way for the relocation. A pool, basketball court, sewer and utilities will also have to be moved. Engineer George Sourati, who is working on behalf of the Schifters, said last week that the guest house is now 40 feet away from the coastal bluff.
Decisions this week focused on moving the guest house. At a special conservation commission meeting Monday, the commission approved preparatory work to move the guest house, including excavating five feet deep and 15 feet wide around the guest house and cutting the guest house foundation to separate the frame from the basement. A day later, the planning board also approved this preparatory work (now with seven feet of excavation) as well as the ultimate guest house move. Preparatory work was slated to begin Wednesday.
Mr. Sourati said a barge with moving equipment should arrive from Maryland the first week of April, and the guesthouse would be moved after three days of mobilization work. It will temporarily be placed on the basketball court.
“The movement of the guest house is going to tell us a lot about how the movement of the big house is going to go,” planning board member Robert Sparks said.
Mr. Sourati said the concrete basement would be chopped up and removed. The planning board said they required the foundation to be removed quickly so the site could be backfilled.
Both the conservation and the planning board also approved removing some trees and shrubs to an off-site location, cutting and removing some trees and vegetation within the work area, and doing preparation work around the Leland house.
But the ultimate decision about relocating the Schifter’s house and garage was postponed for at least another week. The planning board has approved the move of the Leland house, and this week discussed several conditions on that approval, including that any damage to roads should be repaired and that anything that needs to be removed via the Chappy ferry would be done before June 15 and after Sept. 15.
On March 15, the conservation commission gave Mr. Sourati a 15-item request for information about the project, including asking for an estimate of the number of trips on Chappaquiddick roads, as well as justification for applying to move the home 275 feet from its present location. “Given the speed of erosion . . . a coastal geologist or engineer should provide an estimated longevity for the proposed house based on historical coastal processes information. Both worst case and likely case scenarios should be presented,” the request said. Commission member Edward Vincent Jr. added additional questions, including whether an escrow fund would be created to ensure project completion.
Mr. Sourati said at the conservation commission meeting that he was not yet able to address all the questions, and requested a continuance until March 27. The planning board, also asking for additional information, scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, March 28 to discuss the project.
The planning board also revisited whether the project needs to be referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Last week, commission executive director Mark London sent a memo saying that because the Leland property subdivision was a development of regional impact in 1990, commission staff believed the project has to go to the commission for review.
Edgartown building inspector Leonard Jason Jr., who is also a member of the commission, said at the meeting that he thinks the project did not need to be referred to the commission, and the number of houses that will be on the property are within the allowed amount.
Meanwhile commission planner Bill Veno said the commission thought the changes represent the modification of a decision, and the number of houses on the property after the move will exceed the amount approved.
The planning board — and Mr. Sourati — noted that commission referral would slow down the process.
“Based on what Mr. Jason just told us, we don’t need to send it to the commission,” Mr. Sparks said. “He was there. Case closed.”
The planning board decided against referral. “If somebody else does [refers it to the commission], there’s nothing we can do about that,” chair Robert Cavallo said.