"New Downtown" Development Nearing Vote At HDC

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Rendering of a view of the development along Sparks Avenue looking south.

The Historic District Commission is set to vote soon on the so-called “new downtown” development planned for Sparks Avenue and its members remain divided on whether to approve it. Heading into last Tuesday’s meeting, the HDC seemed poised to approve the development after developers Christopher Fiumara and Daniel Najarian submitted a proposal with a smaller volume and a more broken-up mass, but some commissioners remain concerned by the height, mass, and long dormers along the roof.

“I think this is a huge departure from what is existing,” commissioner Abby Camp said. “I really can't see this. I think I've been consistent that this should be three buildings.”

The development is designed to appear like three separate buildings, although, in actuality, it is not. The developer’s attorneys also highlighted similarly large buildings in the area, such as Nantucket Cottage Hospital and the Nantucket Boys and Girls Club. Some commissioners believe the design is sufficient, and dividing the buildings is not necessary.

While the Planning Board has already approved a major commercial development permit for the project, the HDC has purview over the exterior architectural features and appearance of the buildings.

“This reads like three buildings,” associate HDC member Joe Paul said. “I think this will be an improvement in the area.”

The mixed-use development, which would stretch from 18 to 26 Sparks Avenue, encompasses the Downyflake, although it’s unclear if the restaurant will continue to operate in the new building if it is eventually approved and built. The development would also feature an eight-lane bowling alley and a series of apartments, including eight planned to be designated for affordable housing.

Ultimately, the HDC voted unanimously Tuesday to require further revisions, hoping that another round of edits to the proposal could garner more consensus from the board, which appears split three-two in favor of the development. There is no specific date by which the applicants are required to resubmit their proposal. The HDC started its informal review of the project more than a year ago.

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A rendering of the center courtyard of the development.

“We have two members that are not likely to be voting in favor of this and we have three members who are maybe going to vote for this,” HDC Chair Ray Pohl said. “This isn't going to go on forever. Nobody wants that to happen.”

The housing included in the development, particularly the potential for affordable housing, sparked some controversy at Tuesday’s HDC meeting. Paul argued that the development’s housing should be considered in the HDC’s decision, but HDC Vice Chair Stephen Welch disagreed.

“There’s no question that housing is an important element of our future, but it’s not part of the HDC’s purview, it’s not what we make our decisions based upon,” he said. “If we did, when does that slippery slope end? Our purview and determinations are based upon character and setting.”

Here are some of the details of the development, including its size and what will be included, as approved in November 2023 by the Planning Board:

  • Building size: 18,000 square feet
  • Three above-ground floors, no basement
  • 8-lane bowling alley
  • Arcade
  • 50-seat restaurant
  • Take-out restaurant
  • 32 apartments, including 56 bedrooms
  • 85 on-site parking spaces
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