Representatives of the Alliance Community Church returned to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) last Thursday for a second public hearing on a planned expansion. Following a three-hour, often emotionally charged public hearing that raised as many questions as it answered, the MVC continued the public hearing once more, this time to next month.
Leaders of Alliance Community Church (formerly Nova Vida) want a special permit to build a 4,500-square-foot addition, plus a 4,500-square-foot basement, all to be added to the existing 7,000-square-foot building already on the property. The proposed expansion would result in a total gross square footage of 16,084.
Thursday’s hearing was a continuation of the public hearing that began on May 16. Located in a residential neighborhood on Ryan’s Way off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, the size and use of the church has been the subject of an ongoing debate between neighbors and church representatives, both of whom were present on Thursday.
The MVC originally approved the 150-seat church as a development of regional impact (DRI) in 2008. At that time, the church was approved for a 150-seat chapel on the second floor of the existing building and a 28-child daycare center on the bottom floor. The daycare center has since moved and building plans have lain dormant.
In 2012, church leaders returned to the MVC with plans to expand.
“There were a lot of conditions in the previous approval that no longer really reflect the current situation,” MVC executive director Mark London said at Thursday’s hearing.
MVC planner Paul Foley began the hearing by describing the issues at hand. He displayed and reviewed the church’s new site plan, including its size, basement, intent of use and wastewater usage and nitrogen loading limits for Lagoon Pond.
Rosemarie Haigazian, an Edgartown lawyer, represented Pastor Valci Carvalho and the Alliance Community Church. She said the planned expansion would not change the property’s use.
“It’s not going to make a difference if the building is larger or smaller,” Ms. Haigazian said. “It’s addressing the parishioners in the church. I’ve never heard of a church being limited to a number of parishioners. Not in this country.”
Darran Reubens, architect of the church plan, explained his client’s most recent proposal. “I’m trying to limit the number of parking spaces and save the trees,” he said. “This new site plan is more sensitive toward trees and reflects what we talked about in our last meeting.”
In the past, neighbors have worried over how the property has and will be used, noting that people seemed to be living in the building. One part of the revised plan, the change from three one-bedroom apartments to a three-bedroom apartment, prompted questions.
“Help me out a little bit, I’m trying to follow the bouncing ball,” Oak Bluffs commissioner John Breckenridge said. “Last hearing, we heard about a parsonage upstairs with three bedrooms. Now we’re going to have three rooms upstairs, with one family?”
“The only reason why the three apartments were drawn is because I heard from the commission, why are we not promoting low-cost housing, which is a necessity on the Island right now,” Mr. Reubens said. “If it’s not possible, then we can’t do it.”
“The town has heard in the past that this has been used as a dormitory,” said commissioner Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs, who said he had questions about an existing bathroom in the storage space.
“We have 2,017 churches in America,” pastor Carvalho said. “Probably 95 percent have showers in the bathroom.”
The commissioners also asked why the church is seeking to expand, when the number of active parishioners has decreased over recent years.
“Were hoping that’s going to increase,” Pastor Carvalho said.
How about usage?
Among the MVC’s concerns on Thursday was the change in the time the church would be operating.
“I think its going to be the same amount of usage,” Ms. Haigazian said. “But it’s not going to be governed by the same amount of hours.”
“If you won’t put limits on it, then we pretty much have to assume for purposes of our calculations and judgments, that it could be happening 24 hours a day,” said commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury. “So it’s in your interest to put reasonable parameters around the things you’re going to be able to do.”
Noise was also an issue. Lawrence Copley, an acoustical engineer speaking on behalf of Alliance Community Church, said he tested the area in February of this year and ran an analysis to see how sound would affect the surrounding neighbors.
“I can’t say that you actually would not hear the music, but it would be very, very faint,” Mr. Copley said. “It’s my opinion that while, yes, you might occasionally be able to hear music, if you’re outdoors in the evening listening for it, but in the normal course of living, the neighbors would not be able to hear music coming from the church if it’s built according to the plan.”
A Neighborhood Affair
Kris Chvatal, an abutter to the church, was the first of several neighbors to offer comments. “I appreciate you working through the details, but I can’t imagine a proposal that’s more generalized than this one,” Mr. Chvatal said. “It directly contradicts the language and intent of the Island Plan, the Island road district and Oak Bluffs’s master plan in both scale and site.”
Anne McManus, an abutter, said, “I think what we have to do here is look at this as a trust issue. I think that this has to really be rethought. About the size of it, and what needs to be done here. We built these homes with an expectation of privacy, and we’re not getting it.”
Valci Carvalho, son of the applicant and a drummer in the church band, also addressed the commission. “We’ve been there for five years, and we’ve had one complaint, one complaint and that’s when we first moved there,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions, a lot of assuming, but we have hard evidence, our worship doesn’t go past 8:30 pm. It’s just spoken word from there.”
Anthony Capelli, an abutter to the church, objected. “This is really wearing on, like we said, our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in a residential area,” he said. This is an organization that hasn’t done anybody any good. We’ve been put through this again and again and again.”
Anic Chaves, a congregant of Alliance Community Church, disagreed. “Being a member of this church has changed my life,” she said. “I used to be into drugs, and I’ve been sober for three years, and the support that I have has been better than anything in my life.”
The continued public hearing is scheduled for July 18.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote by Anthony Capelli to Russell Wendt.