More than a year has passed since Blue Flag Partners secured a unanimous vote from the Planning Board allowing it to renovate and reopen the historic Woodbox inn on Fair Street.
And yet the property remains dormant, with the building shuttered, weeds growing high in its small front yard, and leaves accumulating at its doorsteps. No work has been completed toward revitalizing the Woodbox and realizing the vision outlined by Blue Flag over numerous hearings before the Planning Board in 2021 and 2022.
So what’s the deal?
“No updates at this time,” said Zoey Gulmi Khoury, the head of Blue Flag’s public relations firm.
Terry Sanford, Blue Flag’s co-founder and managing partner, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
“We have heard absolutely nothing and we’re wondering very much ourselves - what’s going on?” said attorney Arthur Reade, who represented a group of neighbors of the Woodbox whose opposition to Blue Flag’s initial plan resulted in the real estate firm scaling back its original vision for the property. “There’s been no activity, we’ve heard nothing, and they’ve not been in touch with us.”
It turns out that Blue Flag has never filed the Planning Board’s decision to approve its special permit with the Town Clerk, a step required to proceed with the redevelopment project.
According to planning director Leslie Snell, “Blue Flag’s attorney offered to draft the decision for our review, which is a typical practice. We have inquired about the status on multiple occasions and the deadline for filing the decision with the Town Clerk has been extended several times. It’s our understanding that the applicant or the applicant through their attorney have been involved with ongoing discussions with the neighbors, which has contributed to the delay.”
The new deadline to file the decision is Nov. 30th.
“The deadline could be extended again, but we (PLUS staff) would like to bring this to a close by that date,” Snell told the Current.
“I’m really surprised the decision has never been filed and no action has been taken,” Reade said. “I’m wondering if they’re still planning on going forward with the project or what’s going on. But I find it incredible, if they’re still interested in pursuing the project, they haven’t taken action to get the decision filed.”
Blue Flag’s attorney, Sarah Alger, said that drafting the decision “fell through the cracks on my end” and that she intends to submit a draft to Planning & Land Use Services staff by Monday. As for the status of the project and if Blue Flag still intends to move forward with it?
“I have no idea,” Alger said. “You should ask them. We have not discussed it at all.”
While Blue Flag has forged ahead with a number of its Nantucket acquisition projects - including the Faraway Nantucket hotel on Centre Street, the reopening of The Pearl and The Boarding House restaurants on Federal Street, its boutique hotel property “Blue Iris” on Hussey Street, and its residential developments off Hawthorne and Cannonbury lanes - the Woodbox has remained untouched.
In April 2021, Blue Flag Partners purchased the Woodbox property at 27-29 Fair Street as part of a $13.3 million deal to acquire the Summer House’s downtown lodging properties. In November of that year, Blue Flag unveiled its initial proposal for the property which immediately came under sharp criticism from neighbors of the Woodbox. In the ensuing nine months, Blue Flag navigated a series of contentious public hearings before the Planning Board in which neighbors of the historic inn argued vehemently to reduce the scale and concept. The final compromise included a provision to make the Woodbox’s restaurant private - available only to guests - which the Planning Board reluctantly endorsed despite deep reservations by its members.
Under the terms of the agreement that the Planning Board approved in August 2022, the Woodbox is permitted to reopen under the following parameters:
- 17 guest rooms available across both properties (27 & 29 Fair Street)
- Total hotel occupancy: 34 guests
- All buildings renovated with fire suppression systems
- Restaurant for sole use of guests; hours 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- Restaurant occupancy: 34
- No bar or outdoor seating
- No smoking policy
- No exterior changes except minor maintenance
The Woodbox is one of the oldest and most historic structures on Nantucket, dating back to 1709 – making it just slightly younger than the Oldest House. But the building had fallen into disrepair in recent years, and in 2019 it was condemned by the Health Department as unfit for human habitation.