Martha’s Vineyard Commission approves new grocery store plan

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) voted unanimously on May 5, to approve a proposal for a new “Trader Joe’s”-style market on the corner of State Road and High Point Lane in Vineyard Haven, not far from Cronig’s Market.

Elio Silva, owner of Tisbury Farm Market, plans to consolidate two existing grocery stores, Vineyard Grocer and Tisbury Farm Market on State Road, into a new three-story, 11,180-square foot complex that would include a grocery store and four apartments.

“It’s a milestone,” Mr. Silva said, in a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday, of the MVC’s approval. “The greatest thing about it is, after we did everything we did, I feel we have a better project because of going through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission process.”

Although he had signed a purchase and sale agreement on the property with the seller, he said it was contingent on the MVC’s decision. Mr. Silva said his bank also waited for the DRI approval before moving forward to process his loan application last Friday.

Plans presented to the MVC call for a 7,400 square-foot grocery store and a 480-square-foot kitchen on the first floor, and 3,080-square-feet of apartment space on the second floor. The basement would contain about 1,000-square-feet of storage.

The project calls for the demolition of one of two buildings on the High Point Lane and State Road site, where the Island Home Furnishings store is now located.

Island Home Furnishings owners Karen and Robert Francis said this week they had no comment yet about where they might relocate.

“Obviously we’re going to move, but our plans are not solidified,” Ms. Francis said in a phone conversation Tuesday.

Offers and conditions

Mr. Silva made several offers accepted by the MVC as conditions of the DRI approval. Among them, two of the four apartments will always be rented to employees of the farm market, at affordable housing rates for families earning 100-percent or less of the area median income.

Outdoor sales will be confined to the new building’s wrap-around porch, and displays in other areas limited to products grown on a farm.

Since the grocery store site is located in the Tashmoo Pond watershed, Mr. Silva offered to install composting toilets on the property.

He also worked with Tisbury planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson to revise his parking lot plan to preserve mature trees. Mr. Stevenson is the husband of Tisbury MVC member Holly Stephenson. A vegetative buffer at least 10-feet wide will screen a 31-space parking area from view from State Road and High Point Lane.

The project goes back to the town of Tisbury for approval of local permits from the building department, zoning board of appeals, and board of health, and a site plan review of the parking lot by the planning board.

Fast food

Mr. Silva had reason to be elated. The Island’s regional permitting body moved with uncharacteristic speed in the public hearing phase — one week — to approve a large commercial enterprise at a business location that had drawn considerable regulatory scrutiny in the past.

On Monday, April 11, the MVC’s land use planning committee held a pre-public hearing review. On Thursday, April 28, the MVC held a public hearing at which there was widespread community support. After Mr. Silva told the commission members that any delay would affect his scheduled closing on the property, the commission scheduled a land use planning committee post-public hearing review for that Monday. On Thursday, May 5, the commission approved the plan unanimously.

In 2002, Thomas Gervais and Robert Goldsborough proposed to build a gas station on the site. The MVC held its first public hearing on June 20, 2002. A second public hearing was held on August 8, and the written record was left open two weeks to allow for public comment. On September 19, 2002, the commissioners voted 11-0 to deny the plan for a gas station on the site.

The Gervais-Goldsborough plan was one of two proposed new gas stations. A competing group proposed to build a new gas station on a nearby site on High Point Lane. The MVC rejected that plan, which later was the subject of an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit appealing the rejection.

In comments following the MVC vote, Mark London, MVC executive director, cited increased traffic on a road with existing traffic problems as one of several reasons that proposal was denied.

Also an issue, the effects a new gas station would have had on the economic wellbeing of the Vineyard’s two up-Island gas stations and the supply of an essential commodity.

Due process

Mr. London and Mr. Silva discounted the notion that the project was fast-tracked.

Mr. London said the commission once again spent a lot of time on traffic considerations and insisted on a traffic study.

“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 said.

A critical issue at the intersection has to do with vehicles leaving the proposed grocery store lot and High Point Lane, he added. With that in mind, one of the MVC’s conditions is that if the connector road system is built to link State Road to Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, there will be no left turn permitted from the grocery store property onto High Point Lane.

“Fast-tracked implies the process was short-circuited,” Mr. London said. “The project went through the regulatory process, but every time an issue came up, Mr. Silva didn’t hesitate to deal with it in a very useful way and to help the commission to process it expeditiously.”

Mr. London said the MVC’s approval of a new grocery store in Tisbury’s State Road corridor does not reflect a change in philosophy. “This area was identified in the Island Plan as a smart-growth area, provided we could deal with traffic and nitrogen loading issues,” he said. “The commission did what it always does, which is to balance all of those issues, and it’s never easy.”

The MVC also considered the fact that the proposal is a mixed use project, as a benefit in its evaluation, Mr. London said.

“It was anything but fast-tracked; altogether it took a good couple of months,” Mr. Silva said, including six weeks in discussion with MVC staff and members of the land use planning committee. “By the time we got there two weeks ago and had the first public meeting, we had satisfied all of the MVC’s requirements,” he added.