Tisbury selectmen consider options for Water Street parking lot redesign

The Tisbury selectmen met with planning board members and Stop & Shop Supermarket Company representatives in a special work session last Wednesday evening. Although the aim was to reach a consensus about the redesign of the town-owned Water Street parking lot in conjunction with the supermarket’s proposed expansion plan, selectmen and the business representatives made no decision.

The resulting 90-minute discussion, open to comments from the public, touched on issues of increased traffic volume and congestion in and around the lot, possible visual and physical improvements, including the elimination of one exit, and relocating the town’s comfort station.

Near the work session’s conclusion, selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said the selectmen would resume discussion at a public hearing about the parking lot’s redesign on September 3.

The next day, town administrator John “Jay” Grande sent an email announcing that the hearing was canceled.

“The Selectmen asked me to form a planning/design review committee to look at the two plans prepared by Stop & Shop and potential new alternatives,” Mr. Grande said in an email to The Times Thursday. In a followup phone conversation with The Times Thursday afternoon, Mr. Grande said the selectmen plan to establish a nine-member committee including Mr. Grande, representatives from the planning board (PB), finance and advisory committee (FinCom), Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), Stop & Shop, and four at-large community members.

Mr. Grande said the selectmen would solicit the community volunteers. When asked what the criteria for selection would be if more than four people apply, he said, “We would like someone with a thorough understanding of the project and a strong interest. Obviously a resident with a strong understanding of what’s been there in the past and what some of the issues are — it’s not something that lends itself to a learning curve.”

Mr. Grande said he thinks forming the committee appears promising, as well as setting timelines in order to get the work done in a timely matter.

“I think the selectmen are wise to take that input and consider those recommendations,” he added. “A hearing at this point would be premature. We will have some kind of forum for discussion later.”

Asked if the committee process might delay the project, Mr. Grande said he believed the committee could sort through the issues and meet the MVC’s timelines for review.

Stop & Shop’s plan — 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 43 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level and a loading area at the rear, fronting on the town lot.

The proposed expansion is currently under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI). Although the town parking lot is not included in the MVC application, Stop & Shop has agreed to include its redesign and foot the bill as part of the project.

Stop & Shop representatives have said they have a five-month window to successfully complete construction. November 1 is the latest that construction can begin, or they will have to wait until next year to break ground.

Close Norton Lane exit?

In opening Wednesday’s discussion, selectman Jonathan Snyder said the parking lot and traffic are his biggest concerns about the project. “You don’t double the size of the store without expecting a significant increase in customers and probably deliveries as well,” he said. “Managing those is going to be a huge challenge. I’m looking forward to narrowing down our options and coming up with something that works.”

Geoghan Coogan, a Tisbury attorney and former selectman who represents Stop & Shop, agreed. “We thought it would be good to take what’s been discussed over the course of two hearings and that it would be very important to ultimately come to an agreement as much as we could on the parking lot itself,” he said. “We thought the plan we have for the parking lot is the one that works best, but we need your endorsement, we need you to be on board with it.”

Mr. Coogan said Stop & Shop’s plan would be to close off the Norton Lane exit next to the store, close the town’s comfort station, and assist with or build out one of the bays in the Tisbury Police Department’s garage area to relocate the comfort station there.

Opinions were divided on closing what is referred to as the Norton Lane exit, the lower end of the street that starts at Main Street, runs alongside the Bunch of Grapes and through the parking lot to its exit onto Water Street. Planning board co-chairman Tony Peake said the planning board is concerned about enhancing the parking lot for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, and does not think that closing the Norton Lane exit would do that.

Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the Tisbury historical commission, said the town already deals with traffic choke-points on Water Street associated with the parking lot’s two existing exits.

“When we add additional parking places it will contribute exponentially to a single exit,” he said. “I would ask the board to consider the increase in volume associated with a single exit.”

Traffic engineer Randall Hart of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, a consultant for Stop & Shop, said the store’s goal is to strike a balance between motorists, cars, and pedestrians. A single entry would eliminate some of the conflict points, such as when vehicles come down Norton Lane past the side of Stop & Shop and cross two lanes of traffic to turn left on Water Street to go to the Steamship Authority.

“We are putting more volume on a single driveway,” Mr. Hart said. “But one thing Stop & Shop is committed to is to provide police officer control in the summer to make it flow as good as it can in the parking lot.”

The single entry is favorable to the VTA, administrator Angela Grant said. “Fewer curb cuts get us past the traffic.”

Selectman Tristal Israel said he wasn’t sold on the idea because the Norton Lane exit functions as sort of a “relief valve” when traffic is backed up at Five Corners.

Katherine Scott, who lives on Norton Lane, said she has never experienced traffic at a standstill in the parking lot and thinks it is important to keep the exit open.

“Why not experiment — close off Norton Lane at the bottom for a week and see what happens?” she suggested.

“We don’t really care if Norton Lane is open or closed,” Mr. Coogan said. “We think it’s better for the town. If you want it open, great. We’re here to solidify that so when we go back to the MVC, we have a plan. We think this one is better but are open to your suggestions. It’s not our lot.”

Safety, appearance and amenities

Dawn Bellante, who lives off State Road and works in Vineyard Haven, asked why the selectmen would consider any building proposal that would increase traffic at Five Corners. “You’re ignoring the biggest problem, safety on the roads and congestion in that area,” she said. “Are you as selectmen able to say no? As a taxpayer, must I accept the fact we can increase traffic to that area by allowing that store?”

Mr. Chapdelaine said the parking lot’s appearance is very important to the historical commission.

“We truly feel that a great deal of public space, plantings, benches, so called “eye candy,” are really important in redesign of the parking lot,” he said. “We have to make it more visually appealing, friendly to the eye — less utilitarian. It is the gateway to Martha’s Vineyard and to the tourist industry that feeds us.”

It was his suggestion that the selectmen put together a committee to look at the options, work out everyone’s concerns, and come up with a compromise.

Opinions were also divided about the town comfort station’s relocation. Mr. Kristal pointed out that Stop & Shop was not only going to provide public restrooms in its new store, but also was willing to relocate the town’s comfort station.

Police Chief Dan Hanavan disagreed that there is space in one of the police department’s two garage bays, formerly used by the ambulance department, which moved to the new emergency services facility. Chief Hanavan said one garage bay should be dedicated to processing vehicles for evidence, and the other is needed to store vehicles and bicycles the department is required to hold onto.

MVC executive director Mark London gave the selectmen and planning board a four-page document with preliminary comments from the MVC staff on the parking lot’s redesign. They recommended allowing for the Norton Lane exit option in plans for the redesign, but to leave the decision open until a downtown traffic study has been completed.

The MVC has been working on a transportation study of its own. Keri Pyke of Boston-based Howard/Stein-Hudson Engineers, submitted a peer review to the MVC on May 3 and is continuing to work as a consultant to the commission.