NPT Statement on 5 South Water Street Proposed Renovation

The Historic District Commission meeting regarding the proposed renovation at 5 South Water Street, originally scheduled for October 30th at 10 AM, has been postponed. 

Click here to view the most recently proposed plans for the 5 South Water Street renovation.

October 29, 2020

To the Historic District Commissioners,

I am writing to you with respect to the proposed additions to 5 South Water Street, located in Nantucket’s Old Historic District. 5 South Water Street as proposed is not in keeping with the design guidelines of Building with Nantucket in Mind, nor with the existing historic buildings on South Water and nearby Main Street.

5 South Water Street seen from the southwest

South Water Street, originally listed as Water Street, has existed since at least 1799 and is a highly trafficked street in the middle of our downtown historic core. Any new construction here should “contribute to the overall harmony of the streets…while reflecting the traditions and character of historic buildings, are in themselves high quality designs for this area.” (Building with Nantucket in Mind, 9)

There are several guidelines from Building with Nantucket in Mind that the Commissioners should remember while reviewing these most recent plans, especially with respect to the roofline, dormers, and massing. The current proposal features an abundance of dormers on the second and third floors that create distracting disruptions in the roofline, especially as seen on the North and South Elevations, all viewable from public ways.

Building with Nantucket in Mind stresses that the “massing of a new building in the town should employ the traditional form types seen in the town… A simple main mass should be placed on the street side of the building and be in harmony with the form and orientation of existing buildings along the street.” (68)

The West Elevation, facing South Water Street, is the simplest of the four faces, but the second and third floors take many of their cues from residential architecture (dormers, roof walk, shutters) As Building with Nantucket in Mind reminds us of commercial architecture, “Street-facing elevations should try to reflect Main Street design elements.” (151) This building should relate to the others nearby.

Overwhelmingly, the Historic District Commission’s design guidelines stress simplicity and harmony. (With regards to roofs: “In any case, roof designs should harmonize with the rhythm of roofs along the street.” (72) and dormers: “Dormer design and placement should not destroy the simplicity of the roof plane of Nantucket buildings, which is an important aspect of the character of its architecture.” (72) A simpler structure, even a large structure, would fit in with the historic surroundings in a way the proposed building does not.

We ask the Commissioners to remember that the HDC has not only the authority but the responsibility to see that any new construction in this location should enhance the historic district, not detract.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Bergman
Executive Director
Nantucket Preservation Trust

NPT Assumes Administration of 31 Western Avenue Preservation Restriction

In a unanimous decision on Wednesday, October 14, the Nantucket Select Board voted to reassign the enforcement and management of the preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue, the former Star of the Sea Youth Hostel, from the Nantucket Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust.

The Star of the Sea Youth Hostel. Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Hostelling International compacted with the Town of Nantucket to place a preservation restriction, also known as a preservation easement, on the property in 2007. The restriction protects the historic character of the property. Click here to read the full restriction document. The main building was built as a lifesaving station in 1874.  The iconic Stick style structure was the first of four lifesaving stations build on Nantucket, and it is the last that survives. It served as a lifesaving station until 1921.

The federal government retained ownership of the site until 1962, when Lilye Mason, a longtime housemother for  American Youth Hostels, Inc. successfully bid to purchase the property and convert it for use into a hostel. In 1963, Ms. Mason sold the property to American Youth Hostels, Inc., now known as Hostelling International.

The property operated as a hostel until 2019. In August 2020, Hostelling International announced their intentions to sell the property and in September announced Blue Flag Partners as the winning bidders. The sale closed on Tuesday, October 6.  The preservation restriction at 31 Western Avenue protects the main lifesaving station building, a historic cottage, and a former stable that was converted into an additional hostel dormitory.  The restriction exists to protect the architectural, historic, and cultural features of the buildings at 31 Western Avenue. Under the preservation restriction, there can be no changes to the exterior appearance of the historic buildings without approval of NPT and the HDC. Any construction of new buildings or relocation of the existing buildings would also require approval.

Blue Flag Partners has announced intentions to develop the site in keeping with its historic hostel past. The transfer of the enforcement and management responsibilities of the preservation restriction from the Historic District Commission to Nantucket Preservation Trust, which holds 25 other preservation restrictions, will allow for an additional layer of preservation-minded review to any proposed changes to the Star of the Sea. NPT looks forward to ensuring the stewardship of these important historic buildings for generations to come.