YMCA project sprints for MVC finish line
Technical discussions about wastewater, storm water runoff, and parking configuration provided the mental equivalent of aerobics during the YMCA's second session of a public hearing before the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) on July 18.
During the three-hour meeting, the YMCA's board members and design team provided a thorough explanation for all of the commissioners' questions from the first hearing, along with a written list of several offers. However, with requests from several commissioners for more details on some issues, Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) chairman Christina Brown continued the hearing to Aug. 9.
The project to build an $11 million, 35,000-square-foot building on five acres leased from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School behind the skate park across the street is undergoing review as a development of regional impact (DRI). Over the past year, the YMCA board and staff worked with the MVC in collaborating with the high school, MV Community Services, the Vineyard Ice Arena, and MV Skate Park on a "campus plan" for the whole area.
Wastewater proved one of the most critical and challenging issues for the YMCA project. The facility will be located in the Lagoon and Sengekontacket ponds' watersheds, which fall under stricter nitrogen load limits under the MVC's current water quality policy. Working with the MVC's executive director Mark London, Water Resources Planner Bill Wilcox, and a study committee to explore wastewater treatment alternatives, the YMCA opted to join the high school in a joint solution. Wastewater from the two facilities will be pumped to the Oak Bluffs Wastewater Treatment Facility and once treated, will be pumped back to a leaching field on the high school property.
Superintendent of Schools James Weiss said this week on Monday that the high school's land use committee accepted his recommendation to go with a system to pump wastewater to the Oak Bluffs facility instead of building a small package treatment plant, which would require a full-time operator. "We're school people: we do education, we don't do wastewater," Mr. Weiss said.
The YMCA agreed to pay a minimum of $200,000 and a maximum of $300,000 towards the cost of construction and operation of the new system. MVC Water Resource Planner Bill Wilcox said the new system will reduce nitrogen loading at the high school by at least 129 kilograms per year. Although the YMCA facility still will exceed its nitrogen-loading limit, Mr. Wilcox said the new system is an excellent solution that will help reduce the high school's load and promote advanced treatment. The Y's contributions to the improved system should count as a "nitrogen credit" to offset its overage, he added.
Mr. London said that depending on how the system is designed, it may be possible to allow for enough flexibility so that other nearby neighborhoods and facilities such as Island Elderly Housing and MV Community Services could tie in.
"It's up to the high school and to the town of Oak Bluffs as to how they design it, beyond what the Y does," Mr. London said. "All we're concerned about at this point is if the Y's wastewater issues can be solved. I think all of this is in discussion, and it doesn't necessarily have to be resolved before the Y is resolved."
Storm-water runoff at the YMCA site also figures into concerns about nitrogen loading. The YMCA plans to use bioretention basins and swales, soil and plant-based filtration devices that remove pollutants, which Mr. Wilcox said will help reduce nitrogen from parking lot run-off. Oak Bluffs commissioner John Breckenridge suggested the YMCA's design team should submit their plans for storm-water management and bioretention for peer review by the Horsley Witten Group, an environmental science and engineering firm that specializes in consulting services in areas including site design and watershed protection.
Although the MVC usually does not review project plans in detail because that is left up to town boards, Mr. London said Mr. Breckenridge just wanted to make sure that someone would be reviewing them. "If it is going to be done at the town level, then that's great," said Mr. London.
In looking at parking and traffic, architect Stephanie Mashek said designs were revised to preserve natural habitat, particularly for the Imperial Moth, by cutting parking spaces from 32 to 16 in the northwest parking lot on the recommendation of the state's National Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP). The YMCA also cut down the size of an outdoor play area and established a no-build zone on undisturbed land on the north side of the site.
YMCA facility committee chairman Mark Baumhofer said the Y is in the process of negotiating with the NHESP on a few of its recommendations. Although the NHESP asked the YMCA to move its building to the south, Mr. Baumgartner said the board explained in a letter that the site location is linked to campus planning efforts with neighboring facilities and important in terms of access, shared parking, traffic, and other considerations. The board also feels it cannot comply with the NHESP's recommendation to reduce future build-out, because of plans to build an outdoor sports area that will substitute for a gym until funds are raised to add one.
Although the revised plans showed a reduction in the number of parking spaces, Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) Administrator Angela Grant said it is not enough. The more parking spaces available, the more people will drive their cars. Plenty of spaces are available across the street at the high school, she pointed out.
"The Y could be the perfect model project to move forward using public transportation," Ms. Grant said. She also suggested including a VTA bus pass as part of the Y's membership packet.
To help mitigate traffic, the YMCA offered to contribute $10,000 towards solutions such as creating high-visibility pedestrian crossings with special lighting.
Tisbury commissioner Peter Cabana raised concerns about the YMCA's choice of an oil-fired heating system over a geothermal system. He urged architect Ken MacLean to compare the pros and cons of the two systems closely, arguing that the higher purchase cost for a geothermal system would be offset by fuel cost savings later.