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The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News

The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News

Architectural design remains a major sticking point on Aidylberg 3, the plan by Island Elderly Housing to expand its low-income housing complex off Wing Road in Oak Bluffs.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed a tense hearing last Thursday night on the project, which is under review as a development of regional impact (DRI).

IEH wants to build a roughly 6,800-square-foot building with five apartments at 38 Wing Road, formerly the home of the late Marguerite Bergstorm, a founder of IEH who led the earliest efforts on the Island to develop housing for the elderly. The modest home, circa 1900, was demolished without prior review by the MVC, as is required for all buildings that are more than 100 years old.

The new building would join two other five-apartment buildings at Aidylberg 1 and 2, adjacent to the site.

Financial backing for the project would come from a combination of private funding and Community Preservation Act money, previously approved by Island voters.

IEH spokesmen and their attorney have been at odds with the commission since the first hearing, when commissioners raised questions about the design of the project and suggested changes to make it more energy and also cost efficient.

A special meeting of the land use planning committee was held midway through the public hearing in an attempt to resolve the issues, with commissioners Michael Kim and Ben Robinson, both architects and designers, volunteering to work with the applicant.

But at the hearing last Thursday commissioner Doug Sederholm reported that the meeting had not gone well.

“It was a rather tense experience for us because the commissioners were making some rather pointed comments about the design and some of them weren’t taken very cheerfully,” Mr. Sederholm said.

In an April 25 letter to the commission, IEH board president Simone DeSorcy declined the offer of assistance from the MVC, saying any redesign of the building would be a “legal and financial burden and cause undue delay” to the project.

Neighbors have also raised objections to project, with more than one testifying at the hearing Thursday.

Spokesmen for IEH pushed back again at the notion of making changes, emphasizing the ongoing need to create more elderly housing on the Island.

IEH board member Cole Powers told commissioners the project is already under financial pressure.

“If we have to go back to the drawing board with this, the amount of money that this is going to cost us to do this, we are seriously considering pulling the plug on this,” Mr. Power said. “We’re talking about multi-generational Islanders and the only way we’re going to provide them a place to retire to is right here and now.”

Mr. Kim and Mr. Robinson reiterated the willingness of the commission to assist in correcting what they see as major design flaws.

Mr. Kim said he does not want to halt a project that helps meet such a critical need, but said without reconsidering the design, which he described as out of character with the neighborhood and makes no attempt to reflect the original building that is now gone, he would have no choice.

“I would have to, with no joy, call this as I see it and I see this as strip mall architecture on Wing Road,” Mr. Kim said. “A redesign to something that is more sensitive and much less expensive to build would be a much faster route to get a successful project done.”

Mr. Robinson agreed.

“Nobody at town meeting saw the plans when they voted on that money. They were giving that money to a good cause,” he said, referring to the voter approval of CPA funds. “It’s really unfortunate to be confronted with a choice between what is essentially wasteful architecture and that good cause. It can be remedied, it’s not that complicated.”