Stop & Shop representatives went head to head with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) last Thursday in a continued public hearing that left commissioners with a collection of unresolved questions. The hearing began on July 11 when traffic was the main concern, but last week commissioners tackled several new issues, notably a reconfiguration of the proposed municipal parking lot, including the removal and replacement in the new market building of the town’s comfort station now at the western edge of the lot, between Main Street and Water Street.
Stop & Shop’s proposal — to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings to make room for a new, two-story, 23,800-square-foot market also includes a parking lot for 42 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level and a loading area at the rear, fronting on the town lot.
MVC analyst and planner Paul Foley began Thursday’s hearing by presenting letters of concern and support. Among them, Steamship Authority (SSA) general manager Wayne Lamson said that boatline operations would be affected by the store’s expansion.
“The Steamship Authority has reviewed the proposal for the expansion of Stop & Shop on Water Street in Vineyard Haven and wants to make certain the MVC is aware that any increase in traffic in the Water Street/Five Corners area will have an adverse impact on the SSA’s operations and its customers without the implementation of appropriate mitigating measures, particularly in the summer months,” Mr. Lamson wrote.
The Tisbury planning board recognized in its letter the improvements the market’s expansion plan offered. “The proposed project would replace a worn out building, provide a larger range of consumer choices, and stimulate economic growth in the village,” the board wrote. They added a list of issues that should be addressed as the process continues.
David Taglianetti, of the Boston-based planning, design, and engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) that represents Stop & Shop, described key differences between the proposed parking lot arrangement and the existing lot. The new market, he said, would be pedestrian friendly, with better landscaping, an easier two-way traffic flow and the relocated comfort station.
“The removal of the comfort station is something that the town of Tisbury has been supporting,” Mr. Taglianetti told commissioners. “It is an expense for the town, anywhere from $30,000 per year to $50,000 per year.” Mr. Taglianetti said the removal of the restroom facility is necessary to provide adequate space for trucks to access the store.
In exchange for removing the existing public restrooms, Stop & Shop would provide publicly accessible restrooms on the second level on the Water street side of the store. Commissioners were skeptical of the location of the new restrooms.
“I’m deeply concerned about accessibility,” West Tisbury commissioner Erik Hammarlund said. “There are people walking up and down Main Street. You make it so people walk down a hill, toward the ferry, through a parking lot to get into your store up an elevator with their strollers, with their bags of stuff, to use the bathroom. You’re making a huge mistake.”
Tisbury lawyer and former selectman Geoghan Coogan, counsel to the Stop & Shop project, argued that the proposed move benefits the town. “The comfort station is open right now for about four months a year from about 9 am to 5 pm,” Mr. Coogan said. The Stop and Shop furnished restrooms would be open to the public year-round.
“Yes, it’s only four or five months out of the year, but those are the months we have the most activity coming off the ferry — downtown is loaded with people,” said commissioner Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs. “The fact that the comfort station is only open from 9 am to 5 pm, I don’t see as a detriment, I don’t think a tourist town can have too many restroom facilities.”
Audience members commented
Tony Peak, Tisbury planning board co-chairman, discussed the proposed new parking lot, as well as traffic issues on Cromwell Lane, which runs north and south behind the existing market building. “I would like to see this project go forward, if it’s beneficial to the town,” Mr. Peak said. “But I’d like to be sure, and I don’t see any reason why the project cannot go forward without foreclosing other options in regards to the parking lot.”
Mr. Peak also suggested to commissioners that it would be beneficial to change the direction of traffic on Union Street, to help with the traffic flow in and around the downtown Vineyard Haven area.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel spoke for the town selectmen. “We’re not monolithic, we’re trying to come to a consensus of ideas, and I believe that our administrator is trying to coalesce that and we hope to communicate that to you and to Stop & Shop as we go forward,” Mr. Israel said. “But there’s been no votes taken or no overt decisions made.”
About the bathrooms, Mr. Israel said the planning board has been in talks with representatives from Stop & Shop. “We will continue to do what’s right for the town and what’s right for Stop & Shop,” he added.
Harold Chapdelaine, a general contractor, offered a long list of concerns and recommendations. “I was somebody who originally saw that application and did not want to support this effort, and I was going to be an old, cranky guy who didn’t want to support change,” he said. “But, I think that if you really think about this, if you really do think about what’s best for the town, we should be considering supporting this effort with a very unified and cooperative effort to facilitate the needs of the entire community.”
Vineyard Haven resident Judy Federowicz spoke on behalf of the Tisbury historic district commission. “The traffic is obviously of major concern,” she said. “If you change the direction of Union Street or even make it two-way, you’re going to lose parking spaces.”
Ms. Federowicz also asked if it would be possible to lower the height of the building. “It is the gateway,” said. “We don’t want to increase the unattractiveness. If we reduce the height, I think that would be great.”
Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans, reacting to the collection of issues surrounding the project, most of them unresolved in the supermarket’s plans, asked Stop & Shop representatives and his fellow MVC members at the close of the hearing. “I can’t help but ask the question, when is this bowl of Jell-O we’ve been dealing with going to turn into an application?” he said.
The hearing reconvenes on August 29, at 7 pm.