Tisbury parking lot is due for a makeover
Tisbury town officials and architects from the Cecil Group hashed out the issues and challenges posed by Vineyard Haven's Water Street parking lot recently in an initial planning session.
Laying the groundwork for its redesign and reconstruction, the Tisbury selectmen joined representatives from the town's planning board, police department, and department of public works in outlining the town's needs, goals, and timeline for the project.
As described to the Cecil Group's senior landscape architect David O'Connor and industrial designer Jonathan Harris, the Water Street lot's multiple uses, including parking by grocery store and downtown shoppers, access for police and emergency services, and a pedestrian thoroughfare to Main Street, present many design challenges.
The two architects' first task will be to determine the feasibility of a design concept the selectmen voted to accept last fall, which was drawn up by Henry Stephenson, a member of Tisbury's planning board. The selectmen asked for Mr. Stephenson's input based on his former experience working for the city of New York as an urban designer and architect.
The new design proposed for the Water Street lot contains three bays of parking spaces rotated 90 degrees from the former layout, allowing traffic to circulate without exiting. Illustration by Henry Stephenson
Parking lot plans evolve
The Tisbury selectmen and Stop & Shop officials began working together last August on possible reconfigurations for the Water Street parking lot, which is town-owned. Although Stop & Shop submitted a design that kept the present configuration and added landscaping and enhanced walkways, one of Mr. Stephenson's two concepts was a radical departure, rotating the parking spaces 90 degrees to make them perpendicular to the store.
The parking lot would contain three bays with non-angled spaces, served by a one-way entrance at the north side and a one-way exit on the south side nearest the grocery store onto Water Street. The center bay would allow two-way traffic.
Leaning towards Mr. Stephenson's plan, the selectmen sent it to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) for an informal review, which endorsed the plan with the suggestion to change the north entrance to two-way to improve emergency vehicle access. Last September former selectman chairman Raymond LaPorte and selectman Tristan Israel voted to go with Mr. Stephenson's plan. Selectman Tom Pachico did not, citing the plan's potential for gridlock and difficulties caused by non-angled parking spaces in the central bay.
Stop & Shop handed off the renovation project to the town in October through a contractual agreement to contribute up to $30,000 for the design and $100,000 for construction.
The pros and cons
Noting that the selectmen "went through a lot of debate to come up with this concept," selectman chairman Tristan Israel told Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Harris, "We handed you a general concept we hoped you could go forth and implement."
In the discussion that followed, the new design raised several concerns. Mr. Pachico said he still thinks the plan is wrong, particularly the perpendicular parking spaces. Mr. Stephenson conceded, "It would be better to lose a few parking spots and have more maneuverability with angled parking."
No matter what the configuration, Acting Police Chief Tim Stobie said, "I have yet to see a plan for a parking lot where we are without the potential for a bottleneck."
Mr. O'Connor agreed. "One problem is that the aisles are very tight." He said he and Mr. Harris would come up with some angled parking design alternatives to allow for a lane and a half within the bays to help traffic circulation.
Acting Chief Stobie also voiced concerns about police and emergency vehicle access. More cars circulating within the lot means more traffic blocking the exit of emergency vehicles from Tisbury's police department on the north side. Using Cromwell Lane would offer an alternative route, although the dirt road will require paving and some improvements.
Department of Public Works (DPW) director Fred LaPiana said the new lot design will be tough to plow, although granite curbing might help prevent damage from snowplows. The new design also would eliminate the lot's function as a place to put snow plowed from downtown, which would have to be hauled away instead.
On the plus side, selectman Denys Wortman said he likes the fact the new design allows drivers to recirculate inside the parking lot instead of having to exit and reenter using Water Street as they do now. The addition of pedestrian walkways and trees in the lot will help identify it as a gateway to the Island, Mr. Stephenson said.
Mr. Pachico, however, took exception to his remark. "I've heard a lot about making this the gateway to the Island. We already did that on Union Street," he said. "I'm not looking to spend a lot of money to make this the most beautiful parking lot."
How much is enough?
In discussing a timeline for the project, Mr. LaPiana clashed with the selectmen over the scope of the work and its funding. The parking lot project actually was tied to an easement for Stop & Shop's hook-up to the town's central sewer system. Store officials agreed to contribute funds towards the parking lot's renovation in return for an easement for pumps placed on town land.
Regarding construction, Mr. LaPiana said he would start by placing utility lines underground. However, Mr. Pachico protested that was beyond the scope of the original plan.
"I'm not willing to spend $100,000 on putting utilities underground without going to town meeting," he told Mr. LaPiana. "People haven't voted on anything. Do you want to put the utilities underground or pay to re-do the parking lot? We're not going to stick it down their throats."
In a follow-up phone conversation last week, Mr. LaPiana recalled that in his discussions with Stop & Shop officials, "We discussed that what we meant to do was a complete makeover of the parking area, including redesign, resurfacing, landscaping, utilities, and lanterns. They understood that $100,000 was not enough to do all the work but would go a long way in getting it done."
After the meeting, Mr. Israel said that he sided with Mr. Pachico. "I agree with Tom. The original intent of the money was to re-do the parking lot." He suggested the selectmen should tally up all of the expenses, including putting the utilities underground, to find out what the project will really cost before making decisions.
Town administrator John Bugbee said putting the utilities underground would use up most of the Stop & Shop funds. "This was meant from the beginning to be a Stop & Shop funded project, not a town taxpayer-funded project" Mr. Bugbee said. "One-hundred thousand dollars will allow us to repave and include everything in the Cecil Group plan except the underground utilities."
"I think we all agreed at the meeting with the Cecil Group that it is more than likely and probably all but certain that additional money will be required, and going through town meeting floor will be required to get those funds," Mr. LaPiana said later. "In any case, it is certainly a good idea to vote on the design at town meeting."
He and Mr. Pachico also differed on whether the DPW should oversee the project or if it should be put out for bid. "The bottom line is if the town wants to go forward and start construction this fall, there would be no time to go forward with one big contract, because there is no money appropriated for it," Mr. LaPiana said. "On the other hand, if we executed this project like the Main Street parking lot project, the town is the general contractor and sends out whatever is necessary to subcontractors."
Mr. Israel and Mr. Wortman both said they would like to see the project completed by next summer. Assuming the selectmen decide to go forward with the plan and the DPW oversees the project, Mr. LaPiana said he could start work on the infrastructure this fall, provided he receives drawings from the Cecil Group by summer's end.
If prep work was completed in early spring next year, paving could start as soon as the asphalt plant opened on April 15. Mr. LaPiana said although construction would require closing the lot, perhaps the DPW could work on half of it at a time, to facilitate traffic.
The next meeting with Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Harris is scheduled at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven on July 13 at 11 am, at which time they plan to bring some preliminary drawings.