Too Much of a Good Thing

The proposed redevelopment of what is being called Bradley Square in Oak Bluffs blends an impressive list of components and initiatives: affordable housing, space for working artists, historic preservation, an office for the Vineyard NAACP and a multicultural center.

But the project as proposed is too impressive, packing too much onto too small a piece of land in a mostly residential neighborhood already under commercial encroachment.

Taken individually, the components of the plan are commendable and often imaginative. Two new residential structures would be built. Of the five housing units in each structure, four would be sold as affordable or moderately affordable housing, two of those for artists who could prepare and display their work where they live.

The structure already at the site — the derelict yet historic Bradley Memorial Church, also known as the Denniston House, the first African American church on the Island — would be converted to a multicultural center with an eighty-seven-seat auditorium. The renovated structure also would house two more affordable housing units and an office for the NAACP.

Two market-rate housing units (one in each of the new structures) would round out the project, creating a total of twelve new residential units.

But Bradley Square bears the earmarks of a good idea pushed too far: perhaps to attract community and political support, perhaps to make the financial numbers work, perhaps out of an overabundance of idealism or a combination of all three.

A closer look at the proposal reveals disconcerting details. The density of use is high. The buildings would be substantially larger than those in the surrounding neighborhood. The project’s proposed sidewalk would require the cutting of larger trees that long have framed the neighborhood. Parking likely will be inadequate for day-to-day use at the square, aside from any special events at the multicultural center.

And a real question looms about the emotional touchstone of the project, the purported historic preservation of the Bradley Church building. Gutting a structure and moving it seventy feet from its original footprint may help make this plan work, but it falls short of what reasonably can be considered historic preservation.

A more modest proposal — perhaps eliminating one of the two planned residential structures — would be more appropriate and sensitive for this neighborhood.

The idea of combining complementary uses within new developments offers much merit, especially as the Vineyard seeks to revitalize its town centers and protect the open land outside them.

The Island, however, is a big place, with pieces of land more appropriate for developments of this proportion. Bradley Square should be cut down to a more reasonable size.