The Edgartown National Bank has withdrawn plans to demolish the former site of the Oyster Bar and Grill on Circuit avenue and replace it with a multi-story mixed-use building. In a letter addressed to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission dated June 18, president Fielding Moore said the bank has decided instead to renovate the historic, 1880s building for use as a new Oak Bluffs branch.
“Our simple and foremost priority is to relocate our branch at that location and provide for future expansion should there be a need,” Mr. Moore wrote in his letter this week.
“With renovation, the existing one-story building is very adequate to satisfy our needs.”
Mr. Moore said the bank intends to rent any space not used by the new bank branch.
This is the second time the bank has significantly altered its plans for the building, which it foreclosed on earlier this year.
At a preliminary meeting with the commission in March, where the project was under review as a development of regional impact (DRI), Mr. Moore and architect William Christopher said they intended to convert the Oyster Bar into a three-story building that included a bank branch, two commercial units and four two-story townhouse condominiums.
The plan drew criticism from several members of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, a 177-year-old national historic landmark located directly behind the Oyster Bar.
“I really totally oppose this in the sense that it’s not in the character of the Camp Ground, third-generation Camp Ground resident David Whitney said at a packed public hearing in April.
“A single or two-story commercial mixed-use building is something we could much more readily support,” said Camp Meeting Association president Craig Lowe.
Mr. Moore told commissioners that the bank was not wedded to the plans, and days later Mr. Christopher returned to the commission’s land use planning committee with new, scaled-back plans for a two-story building with a bank branch, two retail units and two condominiums.
“We’re not a real estate developer. We don’t have a stake in the second or third story,” Mr. Moore told commissioners at the public hearing. “We’re only interested in putting a branch office there. I heard from various people in the community that there’s a housing need here and the bank is making that opportunity available. But if we can get one story, that’s all we’re looking for.”
Though largely well received, the two-story plans continued to prompt suggestions and occasional criticism at commission public hearings. At a meeting on June 7, neighbors and members of the Oak Bluffs historic commission sparred over plan details, such as wood trim, a widow’s walk feature on the roof and the location of an automatic teller machine. The historic commission was firmly against placing an ATM in the front of the building, while neighbors argued against placing the ATM in an alley on the side of the building.
Residents of the Camp Ground also voiced concerns about noise from proposed roof decks, adequate parking, and the ATM placement.
“Am I missing something here?” commissioner Leonard Jason Jr. said after the debates. “We’re turning a nightclub into a bank.”
Neither Mr. Moore or Mr. Christopher attended that most recent commission meeting.
Mr. Moore said the decision to scrap plans were unrelated to the approval process.
“This is in no way a rejection of the process or role of the MVC. The MVC has worked very diligently with the bank and architect and all interested parties to craft a project that would benefit the community and address the many concerns surrounding the proposed new building,” he said in his letter to the commission.
But in conversation with the Gazette this week he noted that the project had changed considerably from when it was first proposed, and could have been further changed by the commission process.
“Any time, as a business person, when you have uncertainty, that adds an element of risk,” he said.
“At the end of the day we had a fairly clear idea of what we were going to end up with, it just seemed easier to renovate the building and continue with the process.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is the easiest one, the best one. I think this is one of those situations where everyone, including the bank, will be happier renovating what’s there.”
The bank said it hopes to begin renovations in the fall.