Mansion House Project Is Revised; Commission Drops Plans for Review


The Martha's Vineyard Commission agreed last night, after a brief discussion, to meet Tisbury Inn owners halfway - voting unanimously to not require a fresh review of a reconstruction project that stirred controversy in recent weeks because of design changes following MVC approval of the project.

To sidestep another round of public hearings that inn owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein say would delay the summer opening of the new Mansion House, the Goldsteins agreed last night to abandon two of the most disputed deviations from the approved project.

"I don't think you should have made the changes to the building. I don't want to hold [construction] up unduly, but the balconies really disturb me. It's not in keeping with Vineyard Haven," commission member Kate Warner said Monday night at a land use planning committee (LUPC) meeting on the changes. Ms. Warner was the only commission member to not approve the reconstruction project last April and the only member to vote against the owners' two concessions last night.

"I'm not trying to be inflexible. No one wants to hold you up and hold up the business community. But we are all going to live with this [project] for the rest of our lives," Ms. Warner added during the LUPC meeting.

Fire destroyed the anchor business on Tisbury's Main street in December of 2001. With open expressions of sympathy for the Goldsteins' loss, the MVC approved the 47,713 square-foot rebuild project with unusual haste following a single night of public hearing review last April. The speed of deliberations haunted some commission members over the last month, and several commission members openly regretted their treatment of the Mansion House this week.

"In hindsight, maybe we rushed. The town and the MVC didn't give special treatment because it was the Goldsteins. We worried about the impact on small business owners. I wish we'd had another week [to review the reconstruction plans]. It was a very quick process - for reasons I think were right," said commissioner and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel Monday night. Commission members recently learned of discrepancies in elevation plans and floor plans submitted the night of the public hearing last April, and this week Boston architect David Galler reminded the MVC that the applicants submitted only schematic drawings during the hearing.

"Maybe this is a lesson for us. You think something looks great, but you don't look at the details," freshman commissioner Katherine Newman, who was not on the board last April, said Monday night.

Questions swirled around the hotel in December when Tisbury architect James Weisman pointed out discrepancies between the approved plans and construction drawings posted at the base of the hotel's steel skeleton. A changed cupola, 487 added square feet of usable space floor space, a number of balconies, French doors (instead of double-hung windows) and a shed roof on a balcony facing the harbor were among the modifications to final construction drawings submitted to the Tisbury building inspector for a building permit.

The Goldsteins agreed Monday evening to eliminate three projecting balconies on the Main street side of the building, replacing them with Juliet balconies - a feature already incorporated at several places into the Main street façade. They also agreed to forego construction of a shed roof above an elongated fourth-floor balcony facing the harbor.

During Monday's meeting, several commissioners asked the Goldsteins to insert panes to break up the single sheet glass French doors now prominent on the western side of the hotel. The full commission abandoned that request last night after failing to reach consensus.

"At no time did Sherm and I think we were not in complete compliance. [We made these changes] after evaluating our ability to pay our mortgage after the fire. Research indicates that rooms with balconies sell. We wanted to meet our new financial obligations," Mrs. Goldstein said with an apology Monday night. The couple said they have invested a $6.5 million loan, the equity of their home and their property into the reconstruction of the inn.

Tisbury town officials joined the Goldsteins in defending the changes as minor, referring to the new construction drawings as a "slightly modified plan."

In a letter to the Goldsteins regarding his referral of construction drawings to the MVC, Tisbury building inspector Kenneth Barwick minimized the modifications saying: "Please be advised that to date, this department finds the current plans specifications, proposed uses and occupancies, intent and purposes are consistent with approvals obtained through the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the zoning board of appeals."

In another letter, Tisbury town administrator Dennis Luttrell urged commissioners to not reopen the hearing, detailing a potential logistical disaster for town municipal projects and Main street shopkeepers.

"Concrete trucks and other material and supply trucks unfortunately have to set up on Main street and Beach street during the Mansion House construction. Any delay in the construction schedule of the Mansion House could be problematic for construction crews working on the various town projects on these roads. It is difficult to coordinate all the crews desiring to be working in the same area at the same time. There is simply not enough room to allow multiple crews in at the same time," Mr. Luttrell said in a letter to the commission this week.

The Mansion House controversy forced commission staff to question the applicants' and the town's understanding of the standard post-approval process.

The commission approved a memorandum to all town officials two weeks ago, clarifying what denotes a significant change to plans approved by the MVC.

"It is understood that in the normal course of construction, there may be very minor adjustments for structural, technical, functional or other reasons. However, if there is any significant change to the proposal, the project should be referred back to the commission for consideration as a request for modification or amendment. A significant change includes any increase to the total usable floor space of each authorized use, any change in the intensity of the use, or any significant change to the appearance of the building or the site," the document reads.

The MVC will also be clarifying exit requirements for applicants in the coming months.

"We must do something that makes it more clear. Whether we must go as far as to have plans sent back before the building permit is issued, I'm not sure. We're also in trying to simplify our process. I don't want to make it overly onerous on people because there was one problem," MVC executive director Mark London said.

Last night's vote successfully averted the regional agency's collision with Tisbury town leaders and an outcry from the Main street business community.

"Hopefully we have a solution that improves the design considerably and does not cause economic hardship for business owners in the town," Mr. London said.