Public testimony grew heated at a Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing on Thursday, July 10, to review the latest proposal by the Alliance Community Church, formerly known as Assembleia de Deus Nova Vida (Assembly of God), to expand its church. The MVC reviewed the project as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Church supporters were under the impression that the commission would make a decision that night. They became upset when hearing chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said that the hearing would be continued to August 7, because of time constraints posed by another hearing that evening.
Edward Redd, a seasonal Oak Bluffs resident, said he had flown to Martha’s Vineyard from Atlanta that day to attend the hearing. “I don’t understand it — I’m upset there’s not going to be a vote tonight,” he said.
The Reverend Walter Thompson, also a seasonal Oak Bluffs resident, said he also had flown in especially for the hearing from New York, where he is the pastor of a church.
The size and use of the church, located in a residential Oak Bluffs neighborhood on Ryan’s Way off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, have been the subject of an ongoing debate between neighbors and church representatives ever since the MVC first approved plans for a 150-seat chapel on the second floor of the existing building and a 28-child day care center on the bottom floor.
The day care center has since moved, and building plans have been dormant. In December 2013, ending a review process that lasted almost one year, the MVC denied a church proposal to expand its building and church activities as a modification of its previously approved DRI.
The commission voted 4-3 against the proposal based largely on the impact an expansion would have on the residential neighborhood.
In April, church representatives submitted a new DRI application now under review. The revised plan includes a 3,920-square-foot addition, reduced from 4,500 square feet in the previous proposal, and a 22-foot high gable roof rather than a 24-foot high shed roof. The first floor would house the church sanctuary and the second floor an apartment for a caretaker and family.
The site plan has been changed so that the building and parking are set further back from Ryan’s Way. A proposed road that would have gone all the way around the building was removed. The new plans call for access to be off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and not from Ryan’s Way.
The church also submitted a six-page list with 51 offers as conditions for the DRI’s approval. Among them, church leaders said the building will be equipped with composting toilets, church services limited to three per week, no formal or informal activities will be held on the property before 7 am or after 9 pm, with no outdoor socializing allowed after 9 pm.
Church members had met in the basement of the existing building until the town of Oak Bluffs issued a cease and desist order. For the past few years, the church has been operating and holding services at the Federated Church in Edgartown.
What do you want
Attorney Rosemarie Haigazian accompanied Pastor Valci Carvalho and spoke on the church’s behalf. “We’ve done everything we can possibly think of to address the concerns that have been raised by the commission and have been raised by the neighbors and other town boards,” she said. “We’re doing the very best we can to show our good faith in our efforts. There have been some very difficult buffers put in front of us, and we have dealt with them.”
The church’s previously approved DRI stipulated that the sanctuary would operate on the church’s second floor, and that a community room would not be used for services. Ms. Haigazian said that since Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s daycare no longer operates in the building, and that a community room created on the first floor has been used temporarily as a gathering place, but not as a sanctuary. Commissioner Erik Hammarlund of West Tisbury questioned whether that made the church in non-compliance with the previously approved DRI.
Ms. Haigazian said the room is part of the already existing building, and that while some church services have taken place there, it hasn’t caused any problem. “There is a functional building which has been utilized, and has been approved to be utilized,” she added.
Finding no Oak Bluffs public officials or representatives from town boards that wanted to speak, hearing chairman Linda Sibley opened the hearing to public testimony. She said that she would end the session in 30 minutes and would continue it. There was some discussion among the MVC members about who would be present for the continued hearing in August.
Ms. Sibley then called for comments from anyone who might not be able to attend next month.
Mr. Redd said he had been coming to the MVC hearings on the church for a year, and would not be able to come back in August. He launched into an angry diatribe about the MVC process and what he characterized as mistreatment of the Brazilian community by the commission.
“They’re basically done everything you’ve asked them to do,” Mr. Redd said. “They’ve redesigned the building, they’re spending money they don’t have, and I want to know when it’s going to stop. What I see represented on this commission is not a commission of people that I have come to love on the Island.
“I don’t understand it. You would never put another church through this kind of nonsense. You’re talking about having a meeting on August 7 and you’re not going to have enough people, and your deadline is September?” he continued, his voice rising as he asked, “What do you want the church to do? What do you want them to do?”
Ending with the remark that he was upset there would be no vote that night, Mr. Redd left the building.
Lorinda Kasoff of Brooklyn, who owns a home in Oak Bluffs, said she doesn’t understand why the church needs to be so large. “I think the building is too large for the site, and it will overwhelm the neighborhood.”
Kris Chvatal, an abutter on Ryan’s Way with a longstanding history of opposition to the church’s expansion, questioned whether the square footage given for the addition was accurate.
Edgartown resident Courtney Brady said she lives across the street from the Federated Church and has attended some of the Alliance Community Church services there. “I have found them to be completely acceptable as far as noise and busyness, traffic, whatever problems,” she said. “I was happy to have them as neighbors.”
Reverend Thompson said members of the Alliance Community Church have not only been involved in the Island community, but have also traveled to New York to be part of his church community. “I want to encourage the commission to consider the wide arm that this church has been involved in, in meeting the needs of the community,” he said. “I’m here to support it.”
Ms. Sibley asked the commissioners to submit questions about the project in writing to her and continued the hearing to August 7.