Essay: The benefits of a new Stop & Shop

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

A photo illustration shows how the latest design for a new grocery store in Vineyard Haven would look.

Stop & Shop has proposed to replace its current tired and inadequate Water Street store with a beautiful new store that, beyond all measure, will meet the needs of the community, benefit the town of Tisbury, revitalize the center of Vineyard Haven, and in the process encourage future investment in a downtown area that sorely needs reinvestment as the gateway to the Vineyard.

There is no need for word pictures here. Just walk up Water Street for starters. Quaint and inviting are not defined by peeling paint, narrow sidewalks in disrepair, and rundown structures. The before and after of Stop & Shop’s proposal is stunning by Vineyard standards.

The Stop and Shop Company plans to expand into the space now occupied by a former restaurant and clothing store.

File photo by Steve Myrick

The Stop and Shop Company plans to expand into the space now occupied by a former restaurant and clothing store.

As a former Tisbury selectman and a citizen of our town for more than 30 years, I know firsthand about failed efforts over the years to revitalize the downtown, and I fear the consequences of allowing further deterioration. We’ve asked commercial property owners to simply do the bare minimum upkeep, put a coat of paint on a tired building, to

replace loose shingles, very simple measures to enhance the beauty of our town. We enacted a town by-law to provide the local building inspector some enforcement authority and a penalty structure to force business owners to maintain their buildings. Yet, for all of those efforts, today as I write this we have not one full-service restaurant on Main Street that serves dinner, no movie theater, and one rundown grocery store.

Tisbury has a loyal partner in Stop & Shop, one who over the years has contributed generously to our schools, seniors, and community programs. In Stop & Shop, we have an anchor for revival of the downtown — renovating an entire block, keeping in the character of Tisbury’s rich history, and attracting visitors back to Vineyard Haven who are now bypassing the town for Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and beyond. Sadly, Tisbury has become, for many summer visitors and locals alike, just a waiting line for the ferry.

It’s time we do something about this. There will be those who remain resistant to change on Martha’s Vineyard. For reasons I cannot explain, we will always have a group of people who want to keep the status quo, even when the status quo is rundown, dilapidated buildings. From my perspective, change is a good thing, when done smartly. The proposed renovation of Stop & Shop is smart development.

Some in opposition have unfairly criticized Stop & Shop for the lengthy permitting process. The reality is that this site is perhaps the most unique development site on Martha’s Vineyard. We are adjacent to the main port for vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the Island throughout the year. We are adjacent to the worst intersection many of us will ever know, the infamous Five Corners. And we are abutting a town property, the

municipal parking lot that services the entire downtown area. We have been working closely with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, town of Tisbury officials, the business community, and residents of Tisbury to make this a better project. We are thankful for the input and the directions provided from many different and varied sources.

The most recent deliberation that has delayed our bringing our project to a final hearing is the result of ongoing discussions, since October, between Tisbury selectmen and a special town subcommittee over recommendations for improvements to the adjacent municipal parking lot. When Stop & Shop first applied to the MVC we had a vision for the parking lot that was included in the proposal. We were advised to bifurcate the project and focus on only the Stop & Shop property, and to let the town decide what they wanted to do, if anything, with the town lot. That has simply proved impossible. This project does not exist separate and apart from the lot. They are inseparable. Ultimately there are too many issues that interconnect between the lot reconfiguration, or the lack of a reconfiguration, and the proposed renovation, to provide a final product for a decision from the MVC.

Therefore, Stop & Shop has asked for the MVC to delay a final hearing until the town of Tisbury has had a full and complete opportunity to vet the proposed changes to the municipal lot. Once the town has made its determination, whether to change the lot or not to change the lot, Stop & Shop can button up its final proposal and head to a clean, and complete, MVC review.

As for the facts of this project:

• The footprint of the new building is just 6,500 square feet larger than the existing footprint of the buildings currently on site.

• The Water Street footprint of the proposed building is the same length as the present Stop & Shop and the rundown Chinese restaurant that now serves as storage for the store.

• The Norton Lane footprint of the new building is the same length as the current Stop & Shop, now a hodgepodge of three entrances for groceries, personal and hygiene products, and natural foods.

• The rear andwest side of the new building, blocked from view for the most part by surrounding buildings and proposed structures, will be extended the length of the Prouty house and yard.

• Stop & Shop is fully committed at its own expense to relocating the deteriorating Prouty house that, discovered as a part of this application process, is hidden from view, and years from now, if left in it’s current state, will collapse in disrepair.

• And yes, the building is higher, as will all renovated buildings be along Water Street, given new state regulations for the flood plain. Taller buildings along Water Street are unavoidable, a minimum of eight feet taller. The proposed Stop & Shop building height at 33 feet, in fact, is lower than the proposed new Island Housing Trust building next door and below the current zoning requirements.

There is a reality here. All buildings in the Water Street location will, at some point in our future, be raised approximately eight feet so that they don’t wind up in the harbor.

Project benefits:

• Stop & Shop is smartly utilizing the space beneath the building created to comply with the proposed floodplain elevation to provide 42 parking spaces beneath the structure. The proposed plan relocates the truck deliveries from the Norton Lane side of the store to a completely enclosed receiving area to the rear of the building.

• Stop & Shop has reduced the originally proposed store size by close to 15 percent, thus creating much wider sidewalks and pedestrian friendly gathering spaces along its Water Street frontage.

• All of the proposed development will be on Stop & Shop’s property, thus eliminating the current easements that are in place.

• The company has also committed to contributing to traffic studies for Water Street and the downtown, and to working closely with its neighbor, the Island Housing Trust. Results of collaborative studies with traffic consultants have indicated the replacement store will only increase in traffic at Five Corners by about six percent.

• This project creates new jobs: with its proposed new Vineyard Haven store, Stop & Shop will employ 160 in season (30 full-time and 130 part-time) and 100 in off-season (20 full-time and 80 part-time). Part-time workers will have regular opportunities for increased hours. At present, the Vineyard Haven store employs 96 in season and 57 in the off-season.

• And finally, the impressive architecture of this proposed building: architect Chuck Sullivan of Oak Bluffs has designed a supermarket in keeping with Tisbury’s vintage architecture, in tone, scope, and aesthetics. This will be one of the most attractive supermarkets in all of New England.

The downside of not moving forward with this project is business as usual in Vineyard Haven, and that is not in the best interest of anyone — the town of Tisbury, its residents, and Stop & Shop.

Geoghan Coogan of the Edmond G. Coogan Law Office in Vineyard Haven represents Stop & Shop and is a former member of the Tisbury board of selectmen.