Editorial: Reach across the aisle

On Thursday last week, in an email to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), Stop & Shop withdrew its application to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. It is likely that Stop & Shop executives read the tea leaves and decided that the MVC’s scheduled June 5 vote, always expected to be close, might not go their way.

But why withdraw? Wait one more month and you get to call and see the other fellow’s cards. A withdrawal earns no MVC bonus points next time, if there is a next time.

After eight months in the Island’s salad spinner of a public permitting process it is understandable that Stop & Shop might wilt. Once upon a time they probably thought their willingness to invest in a moribund block of buildings, provide parking, jobs and contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements would be welcomed.

Whatever prompted the decision to withdraw it was not because Stop & Shop’s Dutch corporate bosses looked at Five Corners on Google Earth, or were moved by the comments of petitioners late to the fight. There was a corporate calculus in their decision. Whether it holds any benefit for Vineyard residents is still unknown.

Last week, opponents celebrated. Supporters groaned. And Stop & Shop resisted the urge to tell Vineyard Haven leaders their port entrance would remain as is with all the architectural charm of a Soviet-era block construction site for the next decade.

In a prepared statement, Joe Kelly, President of Stop & Shop New England, said, “Following the close of the public hearing on May 1, 2014, Stop & Shop has decided to request a withdrawal of the current proposal from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to digest all of the comments, questions and concerns related to the project. Stop & Shop is a vested partner of this community, and will remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Now is a good time to take stock. The MVC began the process of considering Stop & Shop as a development of regional impact (DRI) in July 2013. The review included eight public hearings (which consumed about 36 hours), six land use planning committee meetings (another 8 hours) and staff time (more than 800 hours). Tisbury selectmen spent many hours discussing the project and drawing up a memorandum of agreement that turned out to be no agreement. The planning board spent hours deciding it could not support the plan and the parking lot redesign committee came up with another parking lot redesign.

Ten months, hours upon hours of meetings and planning, additional pounds of studies, letters to the editor upon letters and what do we have to show for it today? Not much. A plan that failed to win the support of most Tisbury leaders and generated little enthusiasm among commission members. Lots of process, but not much of a result.

Tisbury and Island residents will benefit from a vibrant, new Stop & Shop and the additional jobs, competitive grocery pricing, and contributions to the community it could provide. Locating a parking and truck delivery lot on the bottom level remains a good idea.

Stop & Shop and the Water Street neighborhood is vital to the Tisbury community. Expecting Stop & Shop to solve every planning and traffic issue within a half-mile radius, and help fund those solutions and build a new market is an unfair burden to impose.

Now is not the time for town leaders to sit on the sidelines and wait for Stop & Shop to make the next move, whenever that might be. The Tisbury selectmen and planning board ought to take the lead and invite Stop & Shop representatives to sit down and work together to find a redesign that will win support. After 10 months, the status quo offers nothing.