Editorial: A good decision and one right for these times

Editorial: A good decision and one right for these times

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The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, in a decision that is in some respects at odds with its unfavorable handling of projects planned for the same part of the State Road, Tisbury business district, and indeed for the same property in this case, approved a plan for a significant development at the corner of State Road and High Point Lane. It’s the right decision.

It is not surprising that some observers, including this page, will find this welcome decision inconsistent with previous MVC rejections of development plans along this stretch of road. The inconsistency revealed in the Tisbury Farm Market decision arises, in this case happily, from the broad discretion allowed the MVC by its enabling legislation, not from the process the MVC members use to assemble a basis for a go or no-go judgment.

For instance, in 2002, the MVC rejected two proposals to open gas stations, one planned for the property that Tisbury Farm Market will develop, the other on High Point Lane itself, in part on grounds that State Road in the Tisbury business corridor was badly clogged, even failed, because of heavy traffic loads, contributed by dense business development and up- and down-Island traffic along the street. A gas station would attract lots of traffic and make a bad situation worse, the MVC concluded. Proposed mitigation, including discount pricing for Island consumers, was not mitigation enough.

Making those decisions, the MVC also heard and heeded criticism from other gasoline retailers who argued that the already small market in which they competed could not support an additional supplier, so that some existing retailers might not survive, including especially very small volume retailers up-Island.

The Tisbury Farm Market decision, as Mark London, the MVC’s professional director, explained, confronted the same traffic issues as the gas station proposals had, but the traffic study done for the market yielded a more favorable forecast.

“The bottom line is that we looked at the traffic study very carefully, which determined that traffic levels would be much lower for a grocery store than a gas station, and the fact they have a separate curb cut provides mitigation to limit the impact of additional traffic,” Mr. London told The Times.

As for grocery competition, it does not seem to have been an issue in the MVC’s consideration of the Tisbury Farm Market proposal. Mr. London argued that the different outcomes for the gas station and market proposals do not reflect a change in philosophy at the land use planning and regulatory agency. But, of course, they do.

Why?

Because, since 2002, the membership of the MVC has changed and has, arguably, become more encouraging to business development. And, because competitive worries don’t seem to arise when one contemplates the Tisbury Farm Market battling the gargantuan Cronig’s and Stop and Shop enterprises. If anything, the newcomer, not the entrenched retailers, will face the larger competitive challenge. Because the economy, here, regionally, nationally, and globally has changed, and business growth has a more persuasive claim on regulators. And finally, because decisions such as the one the MVC made to approve of the Tisbury Farm Market proposal are not clear-cut or entirely data- or precedent-driven.

It’s a more qualitative than quantitative calculus that leads to these decisions. For example, State Road is a traffic nightmare, which might have been horribly worsened by adding a gas station where the old Coca-Cola bottling plant use to be (site of the new Tisbury Farm Market) — or maybe it would have worsened traffic there but relieved traffic at Five Corners.

But, traffic will nevertheless be worsened some, in the vicinity of the Tisbury Farm Market and Cronig’s, with the addition of this new, promising retailer — although, at the same time, it might lessen traffic at Five Corners too, as consumers stop at Tisbury Farm Market rather than travel down to the Stop and Shop.

But then, on the other hand, the attractions of the Tisbury Farm Market may lessen traffic at Five Corners but harm the mid-week business done by the Farmers Market on Beach Road during the summer.

A gas station: no in 2002. A grocery store: yes in 2011. It’s not a matter of consistency.