The historic Woodbox inn on Fair Street will reopen to guests after its new owner, Blue Flag Partners, struck a compromise with a group of neighbors who had objected to its initial plan for the property. But the restaurant inside the Woodbox - a longtime favorite of island residents and visitors - will return as a private establishment, available only to guests of the hotel.
While the Planning Board voted unanimously on Monday to endorse the settlement plan between Blue Flag and and neighbors of the Woodbox, its members expressed deep reservations about seeing the restaurant converted into a private establishment. The compromise came after nine months of acrimony and numerous public hearings before the Planning Board in which neighbors of the historic inn argued vehemently to reduce the scale and concept of what Blue Flag had initially proposed for the property.
“It’s no secret this is not what we originally applied for, obviously, but it’s where we’ve gotten, and what we agreed to,” said attorney Sarah Alger, who represented Blue Flag Partners. “It’s a compromise in which no one is getting everything they want.”
Under the terms of agreement that the Planning Board approved on Monday, the Woodbox will 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
While the compromise was hailed by both Alger and attorney Arthur Reade, who represented a group of 70 people in the Fair Street neighborhood, it was the privatization of the restaurant that dominated the discussion during Monday’s public hearing before the Planning Board.
In perhaps the most surprising moment of the hearing, Planning Board member Nat Lowell - never at a loss for words on just about any Nantucket-related subject - uttered the phrase: “I don’t even know what to say” about the privatization of the restaurant.
“So no neighbor gets to go to dinner at the Woodbox unless they stay there?” Lowell said. “I don’t even know what to say. This is a very strange outcome. It kind of goes with the last couple years, - Brotherhood (of Thieves), all the fear of a place that might do better than the previous. I just hope they can change, once things work and once they see there’s not that many people having dinner and not that many deliveries.”
But Alger informed the Planning Board that part of the compromise entailed a deed restriction on the property that would ensure the restaurant would remain for guests only.
“The loss of the restaurant to the public is somewhat troublesome,” Planning Board member Barry Rector said. “It’s become its own private entity. As a board, we’re missing something here by letting it be privatized on that level. The restaurant situation on Nantucket is growing dim. We’re losing restaurants. In doing that, we need to try to maintain as many as we possibly can.”
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. Preservation advocates are closely watching the permitting process for the proposed expansion and renovation.
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.