As a regional review begins for a proposed bowling alley in Oak Bluffs, public opinion is already running high on both sides of the project. Some are enthusiastic about the idea of a new recreation center suitable for families, but the development’s location at a crossroad of commercial and residential zoning is a primary concern for abutters.
The 13,000-square-foot development is planned for Uncas avenue on a parcel of four lots that formerly housed a laundromat and a gas station. Under the plan by Reid (Sam) Dunn, the existing structures, unused and in poor condition, would be demolished and replaced by a two-story building with an adjacent 32-space parking lot.
The property is commercially zoned but surrounded by residential homes on Uncas and Hiawatha avenues.
A petition with 500 signatures backing the plan was presented to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission by Mr. Dunn at the opening of a public hearing Thursday night. But factors such as noise levels, neighborhood character and traffic flow remain topics of discussion.
The commission is reviewing the plan as a development of regional impact (DRI).
As of last week, commission DRI coordinator Paul Foley said he had received 94 letters and emails on the project.
“I’ve been inundated the last couple of days,” Mr. Foley said during the hearing (opinion was running in favor of the project 60-34).
Mr. Dunn made his formal presentation for the bowling alley plan, which features 10 lanes, a 44-seat restaurant, and an 18-seat bar. The second story would have two affordable housing apartments, two golf simulator rooms and an event room.
Mr. Dunn said he and his partner Larkin Reeves envision a family bowling center.
“Bowling has a long history on the Vineyard, but it’s a history of failure, really,” Mr. Dunn said. The last Island bowling alley, which was located in Vineyard Haven, closed in 1980.
“Every enterprise during my 40 years here hasn’t really worked,” Mr. Dunn said. “And the reason, I think, is because there’s never been a complete entertainment experience to go with it.” Adding food and drink options, as well as the upstairs activities, would help the overall sustainability of the venture, he said.
The proposed bar was a source of concern for some.
“We’re not opposed to bowling on the Island; I’d love to go bowling on the Island,” said abutter Byron Barnett of Hiawatha avenue, who attended the meeting with his wife Kathleen. The Barnetts said the project would diminish the quiet atmosphere of the neighborhood.
“If we took a petition around town and said, 'Do you want a bar, do you approve of a bar on Uncas avenue?' We could get a lot of people to say no,” Mrs. Barnett said. “We’re not opposed to the bowling alley, we’re opposed to the bar.”
Don Lambert, who owns an office building at the head of Uncas avenue, shared the Barnetts’ concerns and said he was worried about the increase in traffic flow to the neighborhood.
“I mean, there’s only just so many parking places around,” he said.
Mr. Lambert said he would be more comfortable with the project if it were granted only a beer and wine and not a full alcohol license.
“I know you’re not going to be the ones issuing it, but a beer and wine license kind of calms things down to make it a bowling alley instead of a nightclub,” he said.
Abutters Alison Stewart and her sister Lisa Stewart Crisp traveled to the Vineyard from New York and Virginia, respectively, to attend the hearing.
“We were really blindsided that the parking lot is five feet from our back porch,” Ms. Stewart said. She said there were many unanswered questions about the project, such as how security in the parking lot would be handled.
“The devil’s in the details, and these are details we are all going to have to live with,” she said. Ms. Stewart also proposed an independent noise abatement study to address the matter of sound emanating from the building.
“The goal is that we can’t hear it at all,” Kathleen Barnett said.
Christine Todd, who lives on Penacook avenue, said she was in favor of the project.
“There are very few activities that families can do together that encompass every age group, from toddlers to senior citizens,” she said. “And not only does this do that, but it does it year round.” She added the location was a good one because it was within walking distance of town.
“In the wintertime, I don’t think parking will be a problem there,” observed commissioner Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd. But he said in the summertime it would be a different story.
“I think there are a number of issues that really need to be responded to,” commissioner Linda Sibley said.
The hearing will continue on Feb. 20.