Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) members stalled on the topics of summer traffic counts and parking spaces at a continued public hearing last Thursday night to consider a proposed addition to the Tisbury Marketplace on State Road in Vineyard Haven.
The April 29 meeting was the third go around for the project, referred to the MVC for review as a development of regional impact (DRI). Several commissioners dismissed a staff report prepared by their own paid professional traffic analyst in favor of their own notions about traffic flow.
In an effort to end the Thursday night gridlock, marketplace developer and applicant Reid “Sam” Dunn proposed a hearing continuance in order to get an accurate summer traffic count. The commissioners agreed to continue the public hearing, to possibly in July.
The struggle to find a balance between development of a commercially-zoned property versus no development or limited development underpinned the discussion.
Mr. Dunn has applied for a permit to build a two-story building totaling 6,600 square feet on a grassy parcel overlooking Lagoon Pond, perpendicular to the building that now faces Beach Road. The building would occupy a 3,700 square-foot footprint and include office and retail space, including one marine-related business, and an apartment.
Tisbury’s waterfront commercial district is divided into two zoning districts: the waterside management area, which includes any land inside 100 feet of the high water mark along Lagoon Pond, and the commercial management area beyond it.
Boatyards and other marine-related facilities and businesses are allowed in the waterside management area, as are apartments. Additional uses, such as restaurants, offices and retail stores, are allowed in the commercial management area.
Taking up discussion about traffic where they left off at the April 15 meeting, the commissioners did not put much stock in their staff’s conclusions or an independent traffic and parking study provided by the C3 Consulting Group at the request of the MVC and paid for by the applicant.
The MVC staff report, based on the consultant’s study, concluded that there would be no significant deficiencies created by an increase in traffic on Beach Road generated by a new Marketplace building or a big increase in parking demand.
C3 consultant Charlie Crevo explained that although he conducted traffic counts in February when flows were slow, he factored in a seasonal change at 2.7 times that amount, based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ (ITE) trip generation rate, the industry standard based on national surveys.
“It seems to me ITE doesn’t work for us at all,” Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, hearing chairman, said. “It disturbs me we don’t have real summer counts for one of the busiest locations in summertime on the Island.”
Veteran commissioner Sibley said her opinion was based on her years of hearing traffic numbers.
Oak Bluffs selectmen’s MVC appointee Fred Hancock agreed. “It seems a factor of 2.7 should be more like 10,” he said. Mr. Hancock provided no basis for his opinion.
MVC executive director Mark London countered that the Island seasonal traffic increase is closer to 4 to 4.5 percent. Mr. London explained that the commission staff doesn’t just make a guess on traffic projection numbers, and came up with a seasonal percentage increase based on actual vehicle counts done last July, divided by numbers from February.
MVC chairman Christina Brown injected the “celebrity factor” into possible effects on the summer traffic count. She passed a note to Ms. Sibley that the hearing officer read aloud. “Chelsea (Clinton) is getting married this summer.”
Paved or not
Next, the commissioners moved on to the parking lot.
John Best, representing the Tisbury ConCom, said parking is one of the commission’s main concerns. He said the ConCom allowed the Marketplace to pave the parking lot, provided an amount of open space equal to or greater than that area was maintained in perpetuity. Mr. Best said there might be some disagreement between the ConCom and Mr. Dunn over the percentages.
Mr. Dunn has offered to add another retention basin and make a portion of the roof “green” with succulent plants to mitigate the effects of storm run-off from the parking lot into the Lagoon.
The commissioners also questioned whether the possible licensing of Saltwater Restaurant and Rocco’s to sell beer and wine, in light of Tisbury’s vote last week, might result in increased traffic at the Marketplace. There were no conclusions reached.
Man in a kilt
Although Mr. Dunn appeared to be well-prepared for the hearing, a last-minute letter delivered to the MVC hearing by a member of Tisbury’s planning board caught Mr. Dunn off-guard. The letter signed by planning board chairman Anthony Peak said the board had reviewed the project and “as it stands today, the board is opposed to having it go forward.”
Mr. Peak arrived late dressed in a kilt. He said he had been playing a bagpipe performance and apologized to Mr. Dunn for an administrative glitch in not getting the letter to him before the hearing.
Mr. Peak said the planning board noted that important public amenities, such as the park-like open spaces adjacent to the property and the right-of-way for a proposed shared-use path through the site, were not defined and included in Mr. Dunn’s proposal.
The planning board also objected to the new building encroaching on open space and views of the water. Mr. Dunn and the condominium association have always allowed the public access to the property’s waterfront area, despite it being private property.
Mr. Peak and the planning board also questioned Mr. Dunn’s relationship with the Tisbury Marketplace Condominium Association and who has the decision-making authority.
“I felt blind-sided about that,” Mr. Dunn said in a phone call the day after the meeting, referring to Mr. Peak’s letter that he received that night. “Normally when a town board meets on a project, they invite the applicant in.”
At the last meeting Mr. Dunn learned that because the project site is on filled tidelands, he must also apply for a Chapter 91 license from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The Vineyard Conservation Society had indicated in a letter to the MVC that the problem might be a deal-breaker.
Thursday night he brought along Bob Daylor of Boston, who served on the Chapter 91 advisory committee when the regulations were last revised, to provide his assessment to the commissioners. Mr. Daylor said that based on maps from 1847, the site does sit in former tidelands filled in under a 1936 license.
Mr. Daylor said the building would require a license because it constitutes a change in use. Once the MVC finishes the DRI review, the project would need an order of conditions from the Tisbury conservation commission (ConCom) before going to the DEP for a license, he explained.
“I think it is entitled to a permit,” Mr. Daylor said. “It meets Tisbury setbacks and state requirements for Lagoon Pond. From the standpoint of tidelands issues and wetlands issues, I believe the project is approvable.”
For and against
Support from the condominium owners is divided. “Some are for, some are against; I don’t know what their agendas are,” Mr. Dunn told the commissioners.
“I find this difficult to understand, when every person who bought a condo knew these areas were reserved for development,” he added.
A letter from the Tisbury Marketplace Board of Trustees stated they do not support Mr. Dunn’s proposal, “…though we do acknowledge his declarant right to develop this parcel.”
Louis Larsen, co-owner of the Net Result, told the commissioners he is opposed to the project because the Marketplace is already overbuilt. In a letter to the MVC in March, Mr. Larsen wrote, “I do also realize that my business is the major factor in the traffic problem but I feel any more building in this area would be a disaster for any business that is in the marketplace already.”
Ross Gannon of Gannon and Benjamin boarbuilders provded one letter of support. The wooden boat builders maintain a large work shed behind the marketplace buildings. Mr. Gannon said Mr. Dunn’s building would not affect the boat construction facility’s operations.
The Marketplace’s spaces have been individually purchased as condominiums through an association formed in 1989. Mr. Dunn retained development rights for three areas for possible future expansion, including the site for the proposed new building. One was already used for the expansion of Saltwater Restaurant.
The project was referred as a DRI by the Tisbury conservation commission (ConCom), since the building site falls within 100 feet of wetlands and in the 100-year flood zone, both in the ConCom’s jurisdiction.