To the Editor:
I am the co-chairman of the Tisbury planning board and a member of the Municipal Parking Lot Committee, but this is a submission of my own. It includes references to planning board and parking lot committee policies, which I have attempted to represent accurately. Any errors or misstatements are my responsibility.
I would like to support the proposed expansion of the Stop & Shop store on Water Street, but there are a few outstanding issues that I think need to be resolved before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission gives its approval. These focus on three broad categories:
• The plans for the building
• The plans for the municipal parking lot
• Traffic, transit and circulation
Other concerns, such as the fate of the historic Prouty House, contributions for affordable housing, LEEDS certification and renewable energy commitments, or other items that do not explicitly impact the building design, land use or traffic and transit impacts are not included here.
1. Building plans, and the size of the building. Many of us have advocated for a smaller building, one that would fit more easily into the surrounding context. This is still an unresolved issue, repeated at every public hearing, for which there has been very little give on the part of Stop & Shop.
The primary issue of size, in my view, centers less on the numerical square footage of the floor area (+/- 30,000 sq. ft.) and more on the fact that the building is maxed-out to the limits of the property in every dimension — width, depth and height — leaving little or no room to modify its shape or provide adequate space for safe pedestrian walkways and amenities such as landscaping, trees, benches, cart corrals, signage, bike racks and other street furniture.
Relatively small changes to the frontages along Norton and Cromwell, which are now pushed to the limit, could make a big difference. For example, shortening the length of the building by just 10 feet (from 240 feet to 230 feet) would allow for a 10-foot widening of Cromwell Lane; a significant improvement, creating a safer pedestrian way and space for landscaping. This would reduce the parking in the garage by no more than three cars and the overall square footage of the building by about 1,000 sq ft. (out of 30,000). Since Cromwell is the link to the Island’s Shared Use Path system, this would be an important island-wide improvement that the MVC should require.
Apart from the unresolved issue of the building size, the latest design has been greatly improved. While still bulky, it now looks more like an ensemble of three or four individual structures rather than one continuous mass, and the detailing more closely matches the character of downtown Vineyard Haven. The Water Street sidewalk has been widened, providing space for trees, landscaping and displays. A second-floor balcony enlivens the street and provides a view of the harbor.
Still, there is just a two-foot setback along Norton Lane adjacent to the parking lot, leaving very little room for a wider sidewalk, foundation plantings or other amenities. The building dimensions — 110 by 240 feet – are closer to the size of a city block than an individual building lot. This is a scale more associated with a supermarket than a grocery store.
When the Island Plan called for the inclusion of a “grocery store” in a village center, it was a call for a smaller building and one less dependent on automobiles. While we all have cars and use them excessively, Vineyard Haven is a village with many residents living well within walking and biking distance of the Stop & Shop. But existing traffic congestion along Water Street, exacerbated by the auto centered character of the store, tends to drive bikes and pedestrians away. The commission needs to assure that the store provides a safe, pleasant, pedestrian access that encourages shoppers to walk and bike to the store, both for the improvement of the design of the building and as part of a strategy for reducing traffic and parking demand.
Stop & Shop Restrooms
Now that there is a consensus that the Comfort Station should stay in its current location, the two small stalls that the Stop & Shop included at their west entrance are no longer needed. The space saved by their removal might be better used as a landscaped waiting area with a bench and a perhaps a bike rack. This would be especially helpful to shoppers who are waiting for a ride or for the handicap van.
2. Municipal Parking Lot. The Stop & Shop project relies extensively on the adjacent municipal lot. Building plans call for the use of the lot for both customer access as well as truck deliveries. Moreover, their proposed 43-space garage is far short of the number of cars that their facility is expected to attract. Consequently, the renovation and redesign of the lot will have a significant bearing on the overall look and functionality of the Stop & Shop itself, as well as the visual impact it will have on what is described as the “Gateway to the Island”
Municipal Lot Concept Plan
The Parking Lot Committee, formed last October, produced a concept plan and a series of design objectives to guide the renovation of the lot. A fundamental consideration affecting the lot redesign was the recognition that it is, or should be, a major public space in downtown Vineyard Haven, accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to cars, and providing attractive spaces and services for visitors and residents alike. Last month the committee submitted its recommendations to the selectmen and they have accepted them. They include the following:
• Develop a minimum 10-foot wide Shared Use Path (Multi-use path) along the north and west sides of the lot linking the ferry to Cromwell lane and to the Island-wide Shared Use Path network.
• Retain and renovate the existing public Comfort Station. Orient new entrances toward Main Street
• Develop a public gathering area along the upper (west) side of the lot linking the various public ways that intersect there – Cromwell Lane, Norton Lane, Capawok path, Union Street Mall, and the Shared Use Path.
• Augment the public spaces along the Water Street frontage. Include street trees, benches, signage and landscaping.
• Include a wide sidewalk along the southern (Stop & Shop) boundary of the lot.
• Incorporate landscaping and shade trees throughout the lot.
• Install a stormwater management system within the lot. Include bio-retention basins and other low-impact design options.
• Remove the utility poles and bury the wires.
• Maintain the current level of parking.
• Maintain the Norton Lane to Water Street exit.
• Provide space for police parking and emergency access to Cromwell Lane.
Many of these points, particularly the Shared Use Path, expanded bike and pedestrian ways and improvements to the appearance of the Island’s major port of entry, are important Island-wide features. The MVC needs to ensure that they will be implemented.
3. Traffic and congestion. It is understandable that this issue would dominate much of the public discussions. The store is directly across from our ferry terminal and shares Water Street as its only exit. Traffic volumes and congestion are already a problem in this area. A larger store is certainly not going to help, but these concerns are not projections about what might happen if the Stop & Shop moves in; they are problems that we have had for decades and have not been addressed.
The planning board has repeatedly called for a more detailed analysis of the movement in and around the downtown area, one that incorporates all modes of travel – pedestrians, bikes, buses, cars, trucks, taxis, and ferries. Issues such as parking policies, design of intersections and roadways, potential use of new technologies, costs and many other issues need to be addressed. This is a complex undertaking that will take time and money and Stop & Shop should contribute to it. I would hope it becomes an immediate priority. But there are specific issues surrounding this proposal that cannot wait for a larger study to be done, one that may not be finished until long after the store is built. They need to be addressed now.
Alternatives to Cars – Buses, Bikes, Taxis and Pedestrians
Current discussions about the impact of the Stop & Shop on the neighborhood have focused almost exclusively on cars and the congestion at Five Corners. But traffic and parking issues cannot be addressed adequately without a serious effort to provide attractive alternatives to the cars.
Water Street Congestion , the VTA and Union Street
Of particular concern here is the reliability of the VTA bus service. The VTA system is time-sensitive, depending on a coordinated schedule throughout the Island to allow for timely transfers between routes. A small increase in delays for buses caused by congestion on Water Street and Five Corners throws the schedule out of sync and risks a large deterioration of service Island-wide.
Right now, Water Street is effectively a dead-end cul-de-sac terminating at Five Corners. Union Street provides the only practical option for a secondary exit from this neighborhood. Cromwell Lane is seriously limited and placing extra traffic personnel at Five Corners would be of marginal, if any, value. But to use Union as an exit, traffic flow would have to be redirected toward Main Street. There is a very reasonable concern that the pulse of traffic caused by debarking ferry vehicles would clog the intersection at Union and Main and overwhelm the nearby local streets.
Below is a scheme that the MVC might consider. It would minimize these impacts by dividing the flow of traffic on Water Street into two parts:
1. All vehicles exiting the ferry, trucks and cars included, would still be directed toward Five Corners.
2. The roughly equal number of other cars in the area – Vineyard Haven shoppers, pick-up and drop-off vehicles and taxis, would have the option to use Union Street if they so desired.
This arrangement would reduce the traffic impact at Five Corners and relieve conflicts between ferry traffic and the VTA bus system, while also minimizing the traffic impact at Main Street and the adjacent neighborhoods.
The MVC should look carefully into this and other options for the use of Union Street before issuing an approval for this project. There may be other ways to manage the flow of traffic on Union Street in addition to the one above but, in any case, we cannot rely on extra traffic personnel to solve this problem.
• Municipal Lot/Bike & Pedestrian Ways. The proposed new plan for the municipal lot places a high priority on better bike and pedestrian ways linked directly and safely to the ferry. If fully implemented, this plan would provide safe alternatives to vehicular movement in the area. As mentioned before, reducing the building footprint of the Stop & Shop would also allow for more public space around the structure, greatly improving pedestrian safety there.
• Shuttle Service
This is a service that could be initiated by the town and supported by the Stop & Shop as a supplement to the Steamship Authority’s Park & Ride bus. There are a number of lots in the surrounding area, both public and private, including the Catholic Church, Hebrew Center, Tisbury School and the Senior Center providing a total of approximately 200 spaces that could be included in the shuttle route. These lots could function as a satellite network of parking areas that would accommodate a significant number of cars outside of downtown.
• Delivery Service
The Stop & Shop had once proposed including a “Pea Pod” grocery delivery service, a feature they provide in many of their stores, but cancelled the plan. They should reconsider that decision and include the service, or one like it, since it would help reduce the number of cars that need to access the area.
Each one of these options — bus, bike, pedestrian, shuttle, and deliveries — reduces the need for cars and should be included. At the end of the day, this is the only long-term strategy that promises to effectively deal with the problem of traffic congestion in this neighborhood.