MVC continues Alliance Community Church and NSTAR public hearings

Alliance Community Church at 1 Ryan's Way, Oak Bluffs — File photo by Michelle Gross

Representatives of the Alliance Community Church returned to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday in another round of public hearings about the church’s plans to expand. Thursday’s hearing was a continuation of the public hearing that began on May 16.

Despite the wishes of several commissioners who said they were ready to deliberate and make a decision to approve or deny the expansion project, last-minute questions surrounding the amount of wastewater and nitrogen levels left other commissioners uncertain.

“I would like to get this into deliberation, but I think because of wastewater issues we do need to continue this again,” LUPC Chairman Brian Smith said at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing.

Leaders of the Alliance Community Church (formerly Nova Vida) are seeking approval for 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.

MVC water resources planner, Sheri Caseau, presented commissioners with a new report containing wastewater limits for the property based on the church’s proposed expansion plans. “This project is a Sengekontacket watershed and it’s classified as an impaired watershed,” Ms. Caseau explained.

Ms. Caseau said she had been speaking with the applicant along with project engineer, George Sourati, in order to calculate the wastewater and nitrogen loading limits. “I’ve spoken with the applicant and last time we had a public hearing I had a lot of questions,” Ms, Caseau said. “They clarified to me that there would only be meetings that were related to the church.”

Rosemarie Haigazian, an Edgartown lawyer, represented Pastor Valci Carvalho and the Alliance Community Church. She said the planned expansion would not affect the property’s water usage. Much to the displeasure of commissioners, Ms. Haigazian also said the church would not place a limit on the number of activities they plan on having once the expansion project is complete. “This is their place of worship. You can’t ostracize people from their place of worship when they’re involved in their church related activities,” Ms. Haigazian said.

Erik Hammarlund, a real estate attorney and commissioner from West Tisbury, expressed his confusion over the fact that the church was unwilling to place a limit on the number of church activities. “From a nitrogen perspective, why are we assuming a lower limit?” he asked representatives of the church.

Commissioner Doug Sederholm of Chilmark also had questions pertaining to the church’s previous MVC approval from 2008. “In the 2008 approval, it was a smaller structure,” Mr. Sederholm said. “Did they have any living quarters in 2008? What I’m trying to drive at is we want to make sure we’re dealing with apples to apples, not apples to oranges.”

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 been moved and building plans have lain dormant. In 2012, church leaders returned to the MVC with plans to expand. “I don’t think we’re trying to ostracize anyone,” Mr. Sederholm said. “I think what we’re trying to do is protect the pond.”

Public Input

Kris Chvatal, an abutter to the church, was the first neighbor to offer comments regarding wastewater usage. “I appreciate everybody’s efforts and precision on this matter and trying to get the numbers right,” he said.

Mr. Chvatal said there must be a limit but no limit could be set unless the project engineer provided precise numbers. “We’re not going to have the MVC provide an arbitrary number,” he said.

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.

The continued public hearing is scheduled for September 19.

Katama Subdivision Project

Nova Vida wasn’t the only expansion project on the MVC’s docket Thursday. Representatives for Edgartown resident Andy Houlahan proposed their plans to modify a family-owned 54-acre property between Katama Road and Katama Bay to create a residential subdivision that would include 78 bedrooms spanned across nine lots. The proposal also includes the addition of three new piers as well as a voluntary contribution of $300,000 to the Edgartown Affordable Housing committee contingent upon the sale of a waterfront lot to someone outside of the family.

MVC staffer Paul Foley presented the project’s background information and explained to commissioners that this property was approved by the MVC as a Development of Regional Impact (DRI) in 1997. “It’s the last really large open parcel on Katama Bay on the Edgartown side between South Beach and Downtown,” he explained. Despite the size of the project, Mr. Foley said the expansion would have minimal impact on traffic flow. “This is going to be minimal impact on traffic as it’s a very large piece of property on one of the less congested roads on the Island.”

The property currently consists of five lots and has been in the Houlahan family for over 60 years, said Sean Murphy, a lawyer who is representing the Houlahans. “This is about a legacy,” Mr. Murphy said. “He (Mr. Houlahan) wants to know what this property is going to look like in 100 years. This is not about maximizing development on this property.”

Mike McCourt of the Edgartown Planning board shared his thoughts on the subdivision project with commissioners. “I think this project has been well detailed and I think we as a group from the Edgartown planning board commend the effort of the developer for doing what they’ve done and going the extra mile to make this project work,” he said. “Obviously there are details that need to be sorted out. But for the most part I think this project, for the size of the property and where it’s located could have been a mess, and it’s far from being a mess. That’s the way we all feel at the planning board and we’d like to see it go through.”

Chilmark commissioner Doug Sederholm concluded the public hearing by commending the applicant on a presentation well done. “I really appreciate the professionalism of the applicants’ representatives, and the way they have tried to cover all bases,” Mr. Sederholm said. “We may not agree with their position on things, but I rarely see an applicant who comes this well prepared.”

The MVC will continue the Houlahan subdivision public hearing on September 9.


In the continuation of a public hearing that began in June, NSTAR representatives appeared before the MVC Thursday to discuss the controversial installation of over-sized electric poles. NSTAR community relations specialist Jerry McDermott represented NSTAR’s efforts, along with Karen Corriveau. “I’m just here tonight to hear from you and members of the public who weren’t heard at the last meeting,” Mr. McDermott said. “Since the last meeting we’ve been working diligently, particularly with the town of Tisbury, and we’re doing better with communication with all towns, and we’d like to continue down that road.” NSTAR representatives previously told members of the Island’s powerful regional permitting body that the utility is in compliance with the law and does not require additional permits for a project that is necessary to beef up the Island’s utility infrastructure.

On Thursday, Mr. McDermott said NSTAR is seeking closure on this issue and suggested a memorandum of understanding between the MVC and NSTAR. “We want to be respectful to every town on the Island.”

Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian prefaced her comment to the commissioners by telling them that she was not speaking on behalf of the board. “I just want to clarify, we did vote to add 19 poles along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road,” she said. “If I had known what they were going to look like, what they look like, I never would have done that. What NSTAR does for every hearing anytime the selectmen meet to give permission, is they send somebody who doesn’t have a technological background and often cannot answer the important questions that we as selectmen need to consider. Going forward I hope we have more discussions with NSTAR.”

Tisbury department of public works (DPW) director Fred LaPiana also provided his input to commissioners. “Up until now, the town of Tisbury has had a very good relationship with NSTAR and we’ve been able to communicate and deal with NSTAR in a very reputable manner,” he said. “They understand our needs and they communicated our needs a number of times. We would like to engage NSTAR very aggressively, and ensure that we get our needs met.”

The NSTAR public hearing was continued to September 19 to address the technical questions and costs for putting the utility cables underground.

The MVC took up the NSTAR project at the request of Tisbury selectmen, who expressed their displeasure with the new poles at their regular meeting on June 17. On July 18, the MVC voted 13-1 to review the project as a DRI. NSTAR maintains that its work is lawful and does not require additional permits to replace existing poles. The company does require local permission for the 44 new midspan poles being installed along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and Edgartown-West Tisbury roads.