A plan for a new bowling alley with a restaurant and bar on Uncas avenue continues to draw a mix of support for a new recreational opportunity and concern about neighborhood impact.
At a Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing Thursday, the issue also led to debate about seasonal versus year-round residents.
Reid (Sam) Dunn wants to build a 13,500-square-foot building on Uncas avenue with 10 bowling lanes, a 44-seat restaurant, 18-seat bar, game room and event room. The building would replace several buildings that now occupy four lots.
There would also be two affordable apartments and a parking lot for 32 cars. The plan is under review as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The neighborhood is zoned as a B-1 commercial district, though it is now mostly residential. At the first public hearing before the commission, passions were strong on both sides of the issue.
In response to concerns from the previous meeting, Mr. Dunn said no food, alcohol or bowling will be sold after 10:30 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and after 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. He also said the event room will be limited to twice-a-week use from June 15 to Sept. 15, with a maximum of 50 people allowed at an event. He offered to reserve the facility once a year for three years for a fundraiser for an Island housing organization.
Commission DRI coordinator Paul Foley said the commission has received 118 letters on the subject, including about 15 in the last few days.
Mr. Dunn said an overwhelming number of letters against the project were from abutters or visitors. “I applaud the abutters’ efforts in getting friends and neighbors to write letters but I think it’s important to make that distinction,” he said.
He added that 800 people have signed a petition in favor of the project. “It just reinforces that there is tremendous public support for this,” he said. “Virtually every one is a resident of Martha’s Vineyard and looking forward very much to this new recreational opportunity.”
He said the neighborhood has been historically zoned as a business district, and sound mitigation would make noise virtually inaudible to neighbors.
Some spoke in favor of having a new recreational facility and restaurant in Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs Association director Christine Todd said her board of directors is “in full support of the project as a board. We think it will be a great addition to that part of town.”
John Tiernan, who identified himself as an Island resident and business owner, said the bowling alley would be a place to have a birthday party for his three-year-old child “I am in support of a rec center, I am in support of a bowling alley, I am in support of a restaurant and I am in support of a bar,” he said. “I care deeply about Oak Bluffs . . . I don’t want to discount any of the seasonal residents who pay taxes, I appreciate that you pay taxes year round.”
“We’re Islanders,” he added. “This board right here, this commission is for Islanders, and I’ll tell you we don’t have anything to do and bowling is a terrific opportunity.”
Neighborhood resident Ann Smith said the new business would be a boost to the town. “I’m frankly quite concerned about the town of Oak Bluffs,” she said, pointing out that the town has two empty theatres and several empty commercial buildings. She said she was in full support of the project.
“Oak Bluffs is in trouble and I think anything that promotes good business in the B-1 district is extremely important to our town. I have to speak for the town of Oak Bluffs first and foremost,” she said.
Others had concerns about the impact on the neighborhood.
Abutter Byron Barnett said he was concerned about the noise from “bowling balls dropping and pins flying five feet away from peoples’ homes.”
He added he was concerned about a full liquor bar in the neighborhood, asking the commission to limit the bar to wine and beer only.
“Please do not approve this,” he said. “But if you do, put constraints on Sam to minimize the impact.”
Island attorney Ellen Kaplan spoke on behalf of several residents in the neighborhood, saying she thought support was for the bowling alley and not the bar.
“It’s not fair to say that this is not a residential neighborhood,” she said. “Whatever it had been, however it had been zoned, it is now primarily residential.”
“We feel that this is going to impact our neighborhood quite a bit,” said abutter Lisa Stewart Crisp. “I know we’re seasonal and that seems to make us second-class citizens somehow.”
She said she is for bowling on the Vineyard but had concerns about the bar, asking that there be no hard liquor.
“We’re going to lose a lot of quality of life, there’s going to be traffic,” she said. “We’d like to be able to sit on the back porch, go to bed at night and sleep, have some privacy, just basic human things that anybody would like to have at their home.”
Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian attended the hearing and said she had heard concerns from residents about the bar. “A lot of comments were we don’t need another bar,” she said.
She asked what the significance of a year-round person or a seasonal person was to commission members. “Because Oak Bluffs, especially its historic community, is a summertime community, and it’s very special,” she said.
“It’s almost more special to them than their off-Island homes,” she added. “This is their refuge, this is where they’re investing their money.”
Commission member James Joyce took umbrage with any attempt to paint the issue as one of Islanders versus summer residents. “There is no difference,” he said. “What we’re looking at is a project, whether it’s a benefit to the Island as a whole.”
“I don’t like that talk,” he added. “I think we’re all Islanders.”
The public hearing was closed and the written record left open until 5 p.m. on Feb. 27.
The commission will deliberate and possibly vote on the project at their March 6 meeting.
In other news, the commission welcomed back a previous member. James Vercruysse is taking the place of Aquinnah elected member Camille Rose who stepped down recently.