Editorial: Big picture is needed

Editorial: Big picture is needed

A series of events and circumstances presents Tisbury business and political leaders with a rare opportunity to shape the future appearance of their town and the Island’s transportation gateway. The challenge will be to incorporate road improvements planned by the state and the desires and plans of major property owners along Beach Road into a bold blueprint for the future.

Several key elements have begun to align. As Steve Myrick reported last week (Beach Road reconstruction plans spur zoning discussion), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) plans a $1 million overhaul of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners. Improvements include sidewalks and bike lanes. The road project is in a preliminary design phase and is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

For more than 17 years, a prime piece of Tisbury commercial real estate, what has come to be called the “Boch lot,” about three-quarters of an acre on the water side of Beach Road opposite the Citgo gas station and next to The Times office, has sat virtually vacant but for a crumbling, long unused wood building and a boat building project.

The property is assessed at $1.9 million and generates close to $20,000 in annual property taxes. Commercial development could generate far more in taxes, along with jobs. Last week, Ernie Boch, Jr., a seasonal resident of Edgartown, said he would like to develop the property “into something nice and cool and useful.”

Perhaps mindful of the long regulatory battle his father faced soon after he bought the property and attempted to create a parking lot, Mr. Boch recommended that town leaders be proactive.

The property is subject to an overlay of zoning regulations. Any use would also require the approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

And then there is the Stop & Shop. Remember that? Following 10 months of MVC review, in May the company shelved plans to replace its decrepit Vineyard Haven supermarket with a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market with parking for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level under the market.

Company executives were left with little clear idea of what the MVC was ready to accept and may not be in any rush to reenter the regulatory blender. But we can assume that they would welcome the opportunity to replace the existing squat concrete market and adjacent building, a former Chinese restaurant, with a new market. And Island patrons would welcome it as well.

Also lying fallow is the property at 6 Water Street right on the corner of Five Corners that is now home to an auto rental business. In August 2008 the MVC approved plans for the construction of a three-story multi-use building to include office space, parking and apartments. The project, as near as we can tell, remains on the drawing boards.

Speaking about the planning process with reporter Steve Myrick, planning board co-chairman Daniel Seidman expressed frustration with the zoning regulations that govern development on Beach Road. “In the past, things have been done piecemeal,” Mr. Seidman said. “It’s been more reactive than proactive. It’s nice to say there is a road and there are bike paths, but if it doesn’t help the town in general, we’re just doing piecemeal work.”

Islanders are familiar with the hue and cry that even the prospect of change often stirs up. We are quick to the battlements at the prospect of it. Recall the fights over fast ferries from New Bedford; the roundabout; beer and wine service in Tisbury.

The ferries now come and go without striking dolphins, the cars go round and round without striking each other, and diners drink and eat with no apparent ill effects on the character of Vineyard Haven. Change need not be calamitous.

Mr. Seidman said the planning board is about to embark on a “visioning” process. The process will take the form of facilitated public workshops, hearings, and efforts to raise awareness about planning issues. Generating broad participation to include business leaders, MVC staff, and those outside the familiar planning network will take strong political leadership but will be well worth the effort and must be done. Paint a big picture.

Perhaps it is time to move the police station out of the center of town. Why not allow restaurants where patrons may enjoy a view of the harbor, like those found in seaside communities throughout New England. Work with Stop & Shop to come up with a plan that works for the town and company. And tackle Five Corners. The town would benefit from a bold and comprehensive process that ends with determined action.

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