The Navigator restaurant in Edgartown will not open for business this summer due to unforeseen complications in transforming the building into an exclusive private club.
The setback in rebuilding plans for the building was formally revealed to Edgartown selectmen last week by Sean Murphy, an attorney representing the developers of the new club, who also sought to retain a seasonal liquor license granted in late March.
Mr. Murphy acknowledged it was an unusual request, but said that since the license was approved and the fee paid, the developers had received advice from architects and engineers working on the project that if the restaurant opened this summer it would delay construction and make it unlikely the restaurant could open next season.
He said there was a massive amount of work to do in refurbishing the old building for use as a private club, to be called the Boathouse. Preparatory work includes removing interior fixtures and plumbing and gas lines. Construction is scheduled to begin on Sept. 15.
"If we open this season, we're not going to be able to start construction until October or November, which means we don't get open for next season," Mr. Murphy said.
The developers wanted to keep the license because investors had been assured they would try to keep all of the licenses active, Mr. Murphy said.
The selectmen quickly agreed to what was essentially a fait accompli anyway. The restaurant did not open for Memorial Day and had already been posted with a notice saying it would not open, well in advance of the town's approval.
Indeed, one of the principals of the Navigator, Gerret Conover, preempted the selectmen's considerations in an interview before the board meeting.
"I don't know what they'll say, but we won't be opening," he said.
Mr. Conover did promise, however, that the work on the building would not disrupt the summer season in town.
"We're going to make sure the place looks nice for the summer," he said, adding: "We're going to put the awnings up and planters and make sure it looks decent. There will be some story boards up on the windows, telling the history of the old Navigator, and the plans for the future. We're going to keep it neat and orderly." He continued:
"We'll hit it full force on Sept. 15 and be open, possibly, next June 15 - the entire property, the downstairs restaurant, bar and the upstairs as well."
The Navigator problem was the second recent setback for the downtown development plans of Mr. Conover and his partners. Two weeks ago a proposed $3 million real estate deal with the town fell apart after strong community opposition.
Mr. Conover and two other businessmen, Thomas Leclair and Harry Garvey, had offered three of seven lots in the Shiretown Inn property to the town, saying the land could provide a staging area for the Chappaquiddick ferry and downtown parking.
Over three public meetings on the plan, a large number of residents, abutters and even the town financial advisory committee came out in opposition to the scheme, which was enthusiastically supported by selectman Michael Donaroma, who is also a business associate of the Conover group.
Mr. Donaroma refused a request to recuse himself from any consideration of the deal, made on the grounds of his connections with the developers. He did for the record make a public disclosure about his dealings with the Conover group.
Mr. Donaroma is part owner of a land development at Katama where the Conover group plans to build a high-end country club, to be called the Field Club. Members of the club also will have access to the Navigator and Boathouse.
Some opponents of the Shiretown land deal argued that a town purchase would effectively be subsidizing the Conover group, because they would be able to use the new town parking area for Boathouse and Field Club members. Valet parking is planned as an amenity at the Boathouse
But the Shiretown property purchase and sale agreement through which the Conover group offered the land to the town has now expired.
The private club development has been controversial since it was first proposed. The club was approved by the Martha's Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact, but almost lost at the final regulatory hurdle before the town zoning board of appeals earlier this year.
At the conclusion of consideration by the board of appeals two members indicated they would likely vote against approval of the Field Club, which would have been enough to kill the development.
In an extraordinary chain of events, the developers were permitted to withdraw their application before a formal vote of the board could take place. They then were allowed to resubmit it, unchanged, as a fresh proposal two weeks later.
After a quick new hearing - with the two members who had indicated their intent to vote against the development absent and replaced by alternates - the board of appeals voted unanimously to approve the club.