MVC gives YMCA leaders a workout
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) gave the YMCA board and architectural team a workout at a public hearing last Thursday night. Commission members questioned the YMCA representatives at length about every detail of their proposed new facility. Wastewater, traffic and parking topped the commissioners' concerns about the Y's plans for an $11 million, 35,000-square-foot building across the road from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).
In the interest of time, at the end of a two-and-a-half hour session, the MVC commissioners gave the YMCA leaders a hefty list of questions to answer at the next session, and they continued the hearing to July 18.
About 70 people were on hand in the cafeteria at the MVRHS cafeteria. "You've heard a lot of facts and seen a lot of plans," YMCA president Chuck Hughes told them. "I honestly feel, as all of us do, the Island deserves a facility like this."
Several community members and representatives of other organizations, including those who will be the Y's neighbors, all spoke in favor of the project. Tisbury seasonal resident and self-described "Swim Mom" Jan Homans told the commissioners, "For the Island not to have a pool, to me, is almost criminal - children need to know how to swim."
Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, who identified herself as a "soccer Mom," said she drives her two children all over the Island to attend programs and activities, and would welcome a facility that offered everything under one roof. "We desperately need this - it could do nothing but good for us all," she said.
The YMCA has been in discussions with neighboring organizations to create memorandums of understanding to ensure good communication and relationships in the future. "We're glad to have the Y in our neighborhood," said Susan Wasserman, president of the board of MV Community Services.
Erik Albert, vice president of the MV Skate Park Association, got a laugh when he admitted he would be happy to have new neighbors for a more basic reason. "The woods have been good, but it would be nice to have a bathroom," he joked.
The MVC received letters from two health club owners representing opposite viewpoints on the issue of whether the non-profit YMCA facility would present unfair competition to for-profit health and fitness clubs.
Sherman Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House Inn, Health Club and Spa, wrote that he has no objections to the Y's community pool and youth center, but thinks the health club programs would hurt revenue for his business and other Island fitness, yoga, and massage businesses.
However, Brad Hill, owner of the Vineyard Fitness Center, expressed support for the new YMCA. "The youth of today need more physical fitness opportunities than just competitive sports," Mr. Hill wrote. "If physical fitness becomes the norm for our youth today, they will more likely become clients of mine in the future."
Disputing Mr. Goldstein's arguments in person, Dan Waters of West Tisbury pointed out to the commissioners that other non-profit businesses do exist alongside for-profit businesses without protest. Island bookstores, computer stores, and movie rental businesses don't complain about unfair competition from public libraries, for example, which offer the use of books, computers, and DVD's for free. "There's no way a commercial gym can provide kids with what the Y is going to offer," Mr. Waters concluded, to a round of applause.
The YMCA board and staff worked with the commission over the last year to lay the groundwork for the public hearing, meeting several times with the MVC staff and the land use planning committee (LUPC). Site plans evolved through collaboration between the YMCA staff and board, the MVC, community leaders, and representatives from the high school, MV Community Services, the Vineyard Ice Arena, and MV Skate Park into a "campus plan" for the whole area.
MVC Oak Bluffs commissioner Mimi Davisson said she was disappointed that Oak Bluffs town officials did not attend the public hearing to offer their comments, especially those who had been involved in the campus planning efforts.
The YMCA is leasing its five-acre site from the regional high school. In lieu of rent, the high school will receive 356 pool hours per year in the new Y's aquatic center at $175 per pool hour, a total of $62,300 annually.
Building phase one will include an indoor aquatic center with a competition-length swimming pool and connecting family pool, a wellness center with an adjoining dance/aerobics studio, a teen center, a child watch area, an outdoor play and camp area, and a café. A gym will be added later when more funds are available.
Wastewater issues remain to be resolved in the area. The site is located within the Lagoon Pond watershed, which falls under stricter nitrogen load limits under the MVC's current water quality policy.
According to the MVC staff report, the best solutions would involve piping the wastewater to the Oak Bluffs treatment facility or combining with neighboring facilities such as MVRHS and Community Services to build a shared package treatment plant. However, Oak Bluffs voters recently defeated a proposed plan for such a facility at town meeting.
If a shared wastewater solution is not possible by the time the new Y facility opens, the Y proposes constructing an on-site enhanced nitrogen-reduction Title V wastewater treatment system, which would require a waiver of the MVC's current nitrogen-loading limits.
Traffic and parking issues generated many questions. The YMCA commissioned a 37-page traffic study by MS Transportation Systems, which concluded that the project would not significantly change operating conditions on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road or at the nearby intersections.
Regarding parking, the proposed campus plan includes 241 spaces, which includes sharing spaces through arrangements with the Ice Arena and MV Community Services. Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant suggested reducing the number of parking spaces to encourage the use of public transportation.
In addressing habitat concerns, the MVC is waiting for notification by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program regarding whether the project will require a conservation management permit because of the presence of several moth species, including the Imperial Moth.
In a phone call this week, YMCA executive director John Clese said he provided copies of a 32-page booklet detailing the Y's DRI application to the MVC on June 4, three days before the hearing. However, the commissioners said at the start of the hearing they did not receive project information in time to read it beforehand.
Many of the questions they asked could be found in the YMCA's application booklet. Nonetheless, West Tisbury commissioner Linda Sibley chided the Y leadership about "a lack of detail on many of these topics."
Some of the commissioners' questions proved confusing, such as Aquinnah commissioner Susan Shea's question about whether "solar activated chlorine" would be used in the swimming pool.
West Tisbury commissioner Jim Powell asked whether the YMCA had considered asking the Harvard School of Public Health to provide a health impact statement or to conduct a study to determine whether the Y would benefit the health of the Island community. However, Mr. Powell offered no information as to how much such a study would cost or why he thought the Harvard School of Public Health would be willing to research the topic.
MVC executive director Mark London said this week it was unfortunate that the commissioners did not have time to review the materials before the hearing. He said he asked the commissioners to send their questions to him this week. He said he will compile a list and send it to the YMCA board to be answered at the July 18 session.