The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News

Home demolitions – especially historic home demolitions – have inundated local review authorities in recent months, testing historical commissions, architects and homeowners as they assess the importance of character and preservation in a rapidly changing island real estate market.

The Beecher Park house in Oak Bluffs should be replaced. – Ray ewing

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which has the power to review the demolition of historic homes over 100 years old as developments with regional impact, has seen a recent significant increase in demolition referrals since the start of the pandemic, meeting often every week instead of every two weeks to manage the load.

Island towns have returned 11 historic home demolitions to the MVC since fall 2020, when full-scale construction resumed, including the Harman House on Edgartown Harbor, five cottages in Oak Bluffs, and a summer cottage on the large Edgartown pond. Nine of them have arrived since April this year. “There has been a recent wave,” said Alex Elvin, coordinator of the DRI commission.

Houses have a lot in common. Almost all are mid-sized, eclectic summer homes from the early 20th century, with unique historical features, special room layouts and little insulation. What they lack in parental suites or modern wiring, they make up for with woodwork and colored windows. They have few amenities, but are functional and often close to code. While owners / applicants range from year round Islanders to new seasonal residents, almost all of the replacement structures on offer have been larger than the original home.

In interviews, commissioners, commission staff, building inspectors and members of the city’s historic commissions pointed to different factors to explain the surge in teardowns – though all hinted that it could be of a side effect of the pandemic, which has caused real estate prices to skyrocket and inventory to plummet. In turn, buyers have purchased properties with plans for future teardowns or major renovations, especially as the vineyard has become a popular refuge in the event of a pandemic.

Historic Commissions face an unprecedented backlog, grappling with legitimate desires to winterize old properties as the island grows longer year round, and demands to build something entirely different to their own. square.

“The property is worth more than the house,” said Pam Melrose, chair of the Oak Bluffs Historical Commission. “But you can’t put the house back together once it’s taken down.”

The new owners of Harman House in Katama Bay want to replace it. – Mark Alan Lovewell

In Edgartown, building inspector Reade Milne said there had been 16 requests for full demolition since January 2020, and already 12 in 2021 – far more than the 11 requests in 2018 and eight requests in 2019. Ms Milne said said most, if not all, of the requests were to demolish a smaller house in order to build a larger structure on the same property.

“There has certainly been a slight increase in demos,” Ms. Milne wrote to The Gazette in an email. “For the record, I have seen a trend towards the demolition of small houses in neighborhoods generally open year round (Pinehurst and Curtis Lane, for example) to make way for larger houses.”

While Tisbury Building Inspector Ross Seavey said he had not seen a noticeable increase in requests for the demolition of historic homes in the town, he noted a significant number of meetings with contractors at during which they designed modifications to historic homes in order to stay below the threshold for review by the commission. .

A very controversial DRI commission checklist footnote defines demolition as “any act of cutting down, destroying, removing or razing a building or part of it”, classifying a “part” as being either 50% or more of the floor area of ​​the house or 25% of the facade.

In Oak Bluffs, a long-standing proposal to demolish the dilapidated but historic Old Variety Store at the head of Circuit Avenue was pulled from the commission’s review after developers changed their plans, according to Elvin.

“They actually reduced the square footage to almost a foot below the DRI checklist threshold,” Mr. Elvin said. “It was a technical detail, so we couldn’t end up taking that one.”

The project, which includes an apartment upstairs and the possibility of a restaurant on the ground floor, remains under study at the level of the municipality.

After the Mill House – an 18th-century house on Vineyard Haven harbor – was razed in 2019 without review, the commission stepped up its historic home demolition procedures, hiring a full-time historic preservation planner and creating an examination matrix to analyze the structural history.

But in recent commission meetings, the historic home’s trigger sparked heated debate among commissioners, as an effort to broaden the definition of demolition to include a stricter limit on alterations, reducing the square footage required. , is at a standstill. Fred Hancock, who led a committee to update the DRI checklist, said changes remained on the table, including a mechanism to handle historic demolitions that seek to convert summer cottages into larger residences. large and overwintered.

New foundation on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs, where a historic cottage was razed. – Ray ewing

“We’re going to see a lot more, I’m afraid,” Mr Hancock said in an interview. “It’s one of the paradoxes of life, that people come to the island and then try to make it look like where they came from. “

But the question of revising the proposed structures in place of the demolished buildings also became a delicate subject during committee meetings. While the commission may assess proposed replacement buildings as part of their demolition review, applicants are not required to submit the proposal, resulting in gray areas.

“This is where we are really asked to be careful, because. . . you don’t mind the demo. You care about what’s to come. And that’s not what we’re doing here, ”Commissioner Ted Rosbeck said during a recent deliberation on a historic demolition proposal in Edgartown that would replace an existing 2,000 square foot summer cottage on the Great Pond by a house on foot, including a tennis court and swimming pool.

The commission voted not to review the demolition, arguing that it would have had no control over the project if the existing structure was not historic. But other commissioners considered that the proposed house represented a problem of the changing character of the island, falling directly within the purview of the commission.

“It is unfortunate that it appears that we are moving towards not considering the replacement as part of the review of demolitions of historic structures,” Commissioner Ben Robinson said at the meeting. “There is certainly a regional impact to this type of structure being built on our coastal ponds and on the island. . . and it’s important to weigh, when we think about the values ​​of materials put together in a place, with work, that functions like a house, versus its demolition, its disposal and its removal. And with it, the story goes too.

Thursday night, the commission was to decide on two demolitions of historic homes in Oak Bluffs. One, located at 19 Mill Square Road on East Chop, is a gabled house overlooking East Chop Drive in the Oak Bluffs Highlands. A second, at 112 Dukes County Avenue, is undergoing retroactive overhaul after being demolished this spring.

“It’s always a huge decision,” Ms. Melrose said.

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