Size and traffic dominated the Stop & Shop hearing debate at the MVC

A photo illustration shows how the latest design for a new grocery store in Vineyard Haven would look. — Photo illustration courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Commission

Size, scope and design were just a few of the many issues covered by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) at a continued public hearing for the Stop & Shop expansion project on October 3.

The supermarket proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings to make room for a new, two-story, 30,000 square-foot market, nearly doubling the size of the current store. The building would include a 42-spot parking lot in an enclosed 16,500-square-foot garage on the ground level and a loading area at the rear, fronting on the town parking lot.

While the size of the structure dominated a majority of the discussion, the fate of the store’s abutting municipal lot and plans to reorganize the circulation of Norton Lane along with the removal of the town-owned comfort station were also addressed.

“Our proposal right now is leaving the municipal lot completely as it is,” Geoghan Coogan, the Tisbury attorney and former selectman representing Stop & Shop, said Thursday. “If the town decides to do something with the municipal lot, then they can do something with the municipal lot whether this gets approved or not. They may approve something that only gets approved if this store gets built, we don’t know.”

In past hearings, Stop & Shop incorporated the redesign of the town lot into their proposal, but then decided the lot is a town issue.

Stop & Shop has offered to build a restroom in its building in exchange for removing the town comfort station as a way to free up space for delivery trucks in the municipal lot.

“I’m a little confused about how the MVC is going to evaluate this application without knowing what the town lot is going to be,” commissioner Doug Sederholm of Chilmark said Thursday.

“We’re working on a very tight timeframe,” Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said Thursday. “We hope to make recommendations by early November. We understand expediency is the word there.”

At a working session last month, Tisbury selectmen met with planning board members and Stop & Shop representatives, resulting in a new planning/design review committee, to sort through the municipal lot issues.

Among other new developments in the store’s plans are a two-foot reduction in the height of the building, and the perimeter of the structure on the Water Street side has been pushed back two feet to allow for a 13-foot sidewalk with landscaping and benches.

Thursday’s hearing is the third installment of a continued public hearing that began on July 11.

The next public hearing will be November 7, with the possibility that a Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) will discuss traffic issues on October 21.

With MVC approval, Stop & Shop said that construction would take place over the winter of 2014-2015.

Size matters

“The Tisbury historic commission unquestionably acknowledges the need for a new store,” historic commission chairman Harold Chapdelaine said in his address to the MVC Thursday. “We recognize the implications of the site being located in the flood zone, and we welcome and want a project to move forward. But by virtue of the graphics that we have all seen, it’s time for us to all acknowledge and recognize the elephant that is in this room, [that] the building is clearly too big for its proposed location.”

Mr. Chapdelaine told commissioners that the historic commission had voted to ask the MVC to deny the Stop & Shop application, based on its “disproportionate” size.

“Respectfully, we ask Stop & Shop to consider a reduction of approximately 35 percent,” Mr. Chapdelaine concluded.

Mr. Chapdelaine wasn’t the only one concerned about the size of the store.

Jaime Hamlin, owner of V. Jaime Hamlin & Sons Catering, said she also thinks the proposed size of the store is too big.

“The Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop as it is now is appalling,” Ms. Hamlin said. “But this is appalling. This is too big for the space. It’s too big a box. Why would you want to get off the boat in a cool place like Martha’s Vineyard and see a giant monolithic store? I think the design could be reduced and improved on.”

Tisbury planning board member Tony Peak told commissioners that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

“I’m not in disagreement that improvements are worthwhile and desirable,” Mr. Peak said. “But it’s a big box design. We have one Vineyard Haven and the design that fits everywhere else in the state does not necessarily fit Vineyard Haven.”

Tisbury planning board co-chairman Henry Stevenson expressed his opinions about both the size of the store and the abutting lot.

“This building is very large by any measure, and a lot of that measure is the fact that it has to lift itself off the ground and include parking,” Mr. Stevenson said. “Whatever happens to that parking lot is connected to the flow of traffic in and out of that whole area,” Mr. Stevenson said. “It’s not just a matter of improving or making that parking lot look nicer in that context, but we really need to look at the entire network of movements that go around this neighborhood.”

There were several people in attendance Thursday who supported the new store, size and all. And, Stop & Shop consultant Greg O’Brien presented commissioners with a dossier of 3,000 signatures of supporters for a larger supermarket. Mr. O’Brien said the signatures account for 97 percent of the store’s shoppers.

A group of about a dozen Stop & Shop employees also expressed support for the new market.

A former employee of the Edgartown store had nothing but nice things to say about the job opportunities the store provides the Island. “I love that it’s a rainbow,” she said. “They don’t care if you’re male or female, whatever your gender, if you want to work at Stop & Shop they’ll let you in and give you a job which helps our children to establish them when they get out of school.

“They’re going to open up this store, they’re going to make it bigger, they need more people, I think it’s wonderful, I love Stop & Shop, I love the food, and if they can get better food, I think that would be really good.”

Vineyard Haven residents Sheri and Chris Bradshaw also favored the larger market.

“I like the new proposal for Stop & Shop,” Ms. Bradshaw said.

“I think it will be great for product and service, not to mention the new jobs it’s going to bring to this Island.”

“What you’re going to get here is a bigger store with great products and more variety,” Mr. Bradshaw said. “And that’s it. I support the new store.”