The developer of a proposed Oak Bluffs housing project clashed with regulators this week over what information was needed in an application. 

Robert Sawyer came to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday to ask for permission to demolish a historic home at 3 Uncas avenue in order to build an 8-unit workforce housing complex. Plans to knock down the deteriorating 150-year old home, once owned by a whaling captain who was influential in the creation of Oak Bluffs, have been denied by town boards in the past and the commission this week said it did not have enough information to fully consider the project.

Commissioners said they needed more details on several items, including things as basic as linear dimensions of the proposed new building. Commissioner Peter Wharton said the MVC has jurisdiction to examine data on traffic, wastewater, and potential impacts on municipal services on all projects. Much of this was lacking in Mr. Sawyer’s application, filed under the state’s 40B housing law. 

Two of the units would be restricted to people who make under 80 per cent of the area median income, but there were questions about if the units would available to rent or to own, and exactly what income brackets, if any, Mr. Sawyer would impose on the remaining six units in the building.

“We have to have that information that was requested in order give you an opinion, approval or not,” Mr. Wharton said.

Mr. Sawyer’s lawyer Jay Talerman was reticent about getting into too many details on parameters that he felt were instead under the jurisdiction of the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals, which also would need to review the 40B project. 

“I’m happy to answer some questions, especially about the 40B process and how we see it shaping up,” he said. “We’re also happy to go through at the MVC level matters of truly regional concern that wouldn’t be duplicated at the zoning board of appeals.” 

Mr. Sawyer purchased the home on Uncas avenue in 2018, and said that the property is now inhabitable and in a decrepit state. 

After trying for five years to get the new project approved, Mr. Sawyer said he wanted to stop funding the idea if the MVC wasn’t going to approve the demolition. 

“We are highly reluctant to throw good money after bad, so let me say this at the outset, if the commission decides in its wisdom to approve our project… we would absolutely be responsive to any reasonable submissions that the commission might want,” he said. “But if the commission is not going to approve us, then our spending more money is just down the drain.” 

Mr. Sawyer lamented the potential of squandering a chance to create more housing for an Island in desperate need, but the commission was reluctant to move forward with what it saw as an unfinished application. 

“We don’t have enough information,” said commissioner Doug Sederholm. “We couldn’t possibly make a determination about the demolition without [an independent engineering consultant] inspecting the building and reporting to us on that.” 

Some neighbors have questioned Mr. Sawyer’s handling of the building, saying the home got to this point in a strategy coined “demolition by neglect.” Several abutters spoke out against the project, with objections to traffic generated by the housing project and the demolition of the historic home. 

The house belonged to Stephen Flanders, a Chilmark whaling captain and politician who was a critical part of helping Oak Bluffs become its own town in 1880. 

Mr. Talerman acknowledged the history and said he was open to someone taking the house and moving it, but he wasn’t sure the structure would be up to such a challenge. 

“We have always been welcome to the notion that someone could pick it up and move it if they wanted,” he said. “I have doubts that it would survive that but we are willing to do that.”

The commission continued the hearing on the project to June 6. 

The proceedings Thursday were delayed several minutes after multiple so-called “Zoom bombers” made anti-semitic and racist remarks. MVC staff eventually kicked them out of the meeting before continuing with applications.