Red, Gray or Yellow Brick Debated Among Neighbors and at Commission; Final Approval Is Mere Formality

After countless hours of planning and public hearings, and years of fund-raising that to date has netted $45 million in cash and pledges, the renovation and expansion of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital has come down to one final point of contention - the color of the building's façade.

Final approval of the hospital project - the largest in Island history - is essentially a formality at this point. On May 31, the Martha's Vineyard Commission, which reviewed the project as a development of regional impact (DRI), reviewed the architectural plans and voted to approve the issuance of a building permit.

Paul Foley, the DRI coordinator for the commission, then sent a letter to Oak Bluffs building inspector Jerry Wiener asking that he issue a building permit for the project. Also last month, the commission's land use subcommittee voted to approve the wastewater management plan, the storm water management plan, the sedimentation and erosion control plan, and the lighting plan for the hospital.


But just as the project is clearing its final planning and design hurdles, a group of neighbors have raised concerns about plans for a red brick exterior on a large portion of the building. These critics, most of whom live on Windemere Road, feel the red brick façade will be conspicuously out of character for their neighborhood, and make the building stick out.

Earlier this month, Windemere Road resident Victor Linn sent a letter to Mr. Foley asking that the commission require the hospital to go back to the previous plans that showed what appeared to be a white façade made of wood.

"[The red brick] is a clear departure from the original approved submission we saw in the fall of 2006 and is a most unwelcome, unattractive alteration. In short, it is a dreadful change to an already overwhelming structure," Mr. Linn wrote.

Mr. Linn went on to note that the building, which is visible from several roadways as well as the ocean, will be a permanent addition to the Island and should blend in with its surroundings.

"This building is forever impacting the lives of our community and families who have resided here for generations and respecting the needs and wishes should be on ongoing priority . . . the choice of aesthetically appropriate materials could enhance the impact; red brick would likely result in another case of ‘what have we done?' " Mr. Linn wrote.

Marcia Graham, another Windemere Road resident whose home directly abuts the hospital building, also voiced opposition to a red brick façade.

"It will make the building stand out like a sore thumb and look even bigger than it already looks. There are no other brick buildings in our neighborhood, so how can you think this will fit in?" she said.

Although several commissioners said they shared the neighbors' concerns about the red brick façade, they only asked to review the color of the brick in the future.

In his letter to Mr. Wiener, Mr. Foley writes that "the commission asked to see samples of the brick before it is ordered. However, this should not delay issuance of any required permits."

The hospital's design was discussed at a series of public hearing sessions last fall, and project officials at the time said they needed to use a material that could withstand wind gusts of up to 120 miles per hour. Hospital architects provided samples of different colored bricks, which included red, beige and light gray.

As of yesterday it was unclear whether any changes are planned to the red brick.

Also last month, the commission revisited the issue of the height of a tower with several glass panels at the hospital's main entrance. When the commission approved the hospital plans in December, drawings showed a 55-foot entrance tower that commission members felt helped break up the otherwise squarish design of the building.

But when the plans went before the zoning board of appeals in March, some board members noted that the maximum building height for buildings in the hospital care district is 35 feet. The board allowed for a higher tower, but capped the overall height at 50 feet.

When the commission made their final review of the plans last month, several members voiced opposition to the change, and recommended that the hospital revert back to the previous design. A report from the commission's architects committee also urged the hospital to go back to the larger tower.

"The tall and slender form of the tower, slightly higher than the rest of the building, was an essentially counterpoint to the long and low building. [When] the height of the tower was recently lowered to meet zoning regulations... the top of the shorter, stubbier tower is now enmeshed within the roof of the main part of the building," the letter says.

The architects committee also suggests that the town approve a zoning change to allow for the original tower height to be reinstated. As of last week, neither the hospital nor the town had proposed a zoning change.

Also in recent weeks, some residents have questioned why their homes cannot be hooked into the town wastewater system as part of the new sewer line connecting to the hospital. Earlier this year, the hospital agreed to pay a one time fee of $75,000 to tie into town sewer, and also agreed to pay the cost of a forced sewer main and a pumping station. The facilities will come under control of the town.

Oak Bluffs wastewater superintendent Joe Alosso said the system is not designed to hook individual homes into the system. In order to tie in, grinder pumps would need to be installed in individual homes.

"I know a lot of people in that neighborhood want to be hooked up, but it's not as easy as just flipping a switch; it's complicated," Mr. Alosso said.

But some neighbors maintain it is really not that involved.

"In my experience, when a homeowner wants to be hooked up, and there is a sewer main nearby, the town should be happy to add another paying customer and get another home off a septic system," said Ms. Graham, who has served on a wastewater commission in the past. "[The wastewater commission] seemed to have no problem making this huge connection to the hospital; but meanwhile the little homeowners who have to live with this large building in the middle of the neighborhood are left out."