Testimony wrapped up on a controversial expansion project at the Harbor View Hotel Thursday night, but the Martha’s Vineyard Commission opted to continue the public hearing on the project, asking the applicant to provide a more thorough description of current and future plans for the historic Edgartown hotel.
The long-term renovation project at the hotel has proceeded piecemeal since the commission first approved a plan to expand and remodel the building more than a decade ago, including ownership changes, a fire and separate building modification requests in 2018.
The most recent plan includes requests to convert the Bradley Cottage to a 4,625-square-foot spa, as well as modifications to the Pease Cottage on hotel property. It comes against a backdrop of growing frustration and also lawsuits from North Water street and Starbuck’s Neck neighbors who feel the hotel has expanded beyond its approved uses in the residential area.
The modification request also includes work previously completed that added rooms to the main hotel and subtracted rooms elsewhere.
The current development of impact (DRI) review by the commission has been under way all winter, with two public hearings held previously.
But neighbor tensions briefly took a back seat Thursday when the commission meeting opened, with staff and commissioners offering warm tributes for Edgartown attorney Sean Murphy, who was a familiar presence at the Olde Stone Building on Thursday nights, representing the Harbor View as well as many other Island developers.
“I worked very closely with Sean,” executive director Adam Turner said. “You helped me a lot. You were somebody I respected from day one. And I appreciated the respect you gave me. I’ll miss you.”
Turning to the Harbor View hearing, Mr. Turner said:
“I know if Sean were here, he’d say, be quiet, let’s get this thing finished,” Mr. Turner said. “And that’s what I’ll do.”
In one change, DRI coordinator Alex Elvin said the hotel would close the spa to the public and open it only to registered hotel guests — in response to concerns from neighbors.
Neighbors nevertheless continued to sound off, arguing that the hotel had violated its trust with the community and that the constant commercial expansions to the project now threaten to erode the quiet character of the neighborhood.
“Today, we are past the tipping point,” said neighbor Jim Swartz, who said he felt the hotel had misled neighbors and boards with prior permit applications. “Trust is gone,” Mr. Swartz said.
Dylan Sanders, an attorney representing the neighbors, asked the commission to review the project holistically.
“I urge you, the neighbors I represent urge you, to look at the project as a whole. Look at what it has become today,” Mr. Sanders said. “It has been transformed into a boisterous wedding venue, among other [non]-historic uses.”
Two people voiced support for the hotel project: Mitzi Lawlor, a frequent guest, and Julia Tarka, the owner of Rosewater Market and Takeaway, who spoke on behalf of the Edgartown Board of Trade.
Ms. Tarka said the hotel and its owner were vital participants in board of trade functions and helped anchor the downtown business district.
“On behalf of the Edgartown Board of Trade, I just want to share our overwhelming support for the Harbor View Hotel . . . and for what they’re proposing here,” Ms. Tarka said. “The hotel is essential to Edgartown’s business district, to our economy.”
After testimony had concluded, commissioners asked a series of questions about the hotel’s long-term plans for development, requesting drawings for the Pease Cottage renovation, among other details.
“We really want to know what to expect,” commissioner Jim Vercruysse said. “These little bits at a time, it puts stress on the neighbors, with constant construction. We want answers about what’s going to happen on the campus. We deserve that, and so do the neighbors.”
Attorney Marilyn Vukota, representing the hotel, said the recent modification request represented minor changes to previously approved plans. Ms. Vukota filled in for Mr. Murphy at the hearing, choking back tears at the beginning as she remembered her former law partner.
“We’re not asking to do this piecemeal,” Ms. Vukota said. “All we’re asking for is more time to complete it.”
But commissioners said they wanted a better understanding of the hotel’s development plans in the long term, ultimately deciding to continue the hearing and requesting a broader master plan.
“I think we need to do our homework,” commissioner Linda Sibley said.