March 12 hearing will unveil options for Tisbury municipal infrastructure
If Tisbury builds a new emergency services facility, where should it go? What happens to the vacant fire department building? If the fire department building is vacant, should the town sell the property or use it for something else? Should the tennis courts on Church Street be relocated and replaced by municipal offices or a parking lot? What other properties and buildings could be used for town hall?
To help answer these questions, the Tisbury planning board recently completed a draft municipal needs assessment. The 26-page document includes a review of town departments, space needs, and priorities, an inventory of buildings and properties in terms of space, condition, value, and costs, and suggests possible options for their use. (The report is available here.)
The draft assessment will be presented by the Planning Board in a public hearing at 7:30 pm on March 12 at the Tisbury Senior Center, offering the community an opportunity to see the results and weigh in with their opinions.
An article on the warrant for Tisbury's special town meeting on March 25 will ask voters to agree to hear the planning board's report. Following the presentation at town meeting, the planning board will schedule another public hearing to discuss implementing some of the report's recommendations.
"This is potentially setting out a course of action that could last many years and involve a lot of money - it's definitely something everybody should be involved in," said planning board co-chairman Tony Peak.
Tisbury voters said no at town meeting last April to spending $1.65 million to purchase property for a new fire and ambulance services building, recognizing the need for the facility but objecting to what they saw as a piecemeal approach to town planning.
Why another study?
In response to the community's questions and concerns, the selectmen and planning board agreed to move forward on a municipal needs assessment to take a fresh look at making the best use of the town's buildings and properties in order to formulate a comprehensive town plan.
Over last summer and fall, the Planning Board conducted a survey of all town departments about available space, current needs, and future projections. They also developed a database of all town properties, acreage, number and size of buildings, and assessed values. In addition, the planning board reviewed past municipal services plans and reports, and consulted with the selectmen and other town committees and commissions about Tisbury's needs, priorities, and options.
Making municipal moves
In looking at building and site issues, the study notes that all of Tisbury's major public buildings, which house the fire department, police and ambulance departments, and town administrative offices, are in poor locations and/or in poor condition. New sites are scarce, and likely expensive, especially in areas with access to and from all parts of town. The availability of downtown parking also is a crucial factor in deciding where to locate municipal buildings.
The planning board found that in many cases, a town-owned property that would meet the space and location needs of one department is being used for another less appropriate purpose. "In order to arrive at an appropriate long-term pattern of use for these facilities, we will need to move some things around," the planning board emphasized in bold type in the report.
However, as the report demonstrates in sequential explanation, any decision to expand, move, or rebuild one facility has consequences that affect another.
Emergency services a priority
Not surprisingly, the planning board identified the fire and ambulance departments as the two with the most critical needs. Combining them into one emergency services facility would require a parcel of about one acre in a location on a major street with easy access to all parts of town. The one town-owned parcel that meets those requirements is the current site of the town hall annex, the report says.
The town annex site, however, is directly across the street from the Tisbury School property, which raises concerns about school access, parking, and student safety, the report points out. Since those issues need to be addressed whether a new emergency services facility is located on the annex site or not, the planning board suggests creating an assembly plaza on the west side of the school building, improving the school playground, and constructing a 30-plus car parking lot on Spring Street.
If the emergency services facility is built at the annex site, the planning board suggests relocating the building inspector, health department, planning board, and zoning board of appeals offices housed at the annex to a small office building to be constructed near the Department of Public Works (DPW) off High Point Lane.
At the same time, a former DPW garage at the annex site could be removed and equipment stored there relocated to the DPW property. That would allow room to build a new police department building in its place. In turn, the current police department building next to the Stop and Shop on Water Street could be used for retail commercial uses, with potential to generate income of about $120,000 per year for the town. The planning board recommends holding onto the fire department site, currently valued at $1,118,200, and using it as a parking lot until a permanent use is agreed upon later.
The planning board found that most of the municipal departments housed in town hall and the annex need about double the space they currently occupy. The planning board suggests that town departments do not all need to be in the same building, but that agencies with related functions should be grouped together for the convenience of the public. The report concludes that a new town hall could serve primarily as a municipal building with offices and meeting rooms and would not have to include a large auditorium, since public meeting space is available at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, Tisbury School, and the Tisbury Senior Center.
New town hall?
Options for a site for a new town hall would include purchasing private land such as the Catholic Church property on Franklin and Clough, if available, renovating the police department building, or constructing a new building on lots at Church Street or at the former fire department site on Beach Street.
Currently, the Church Street lots contain two tennis courts and a small 12-car parking lot. If the Church Street lots were used for town hall, the tennis courts could possibly be relocated to a large field to the rear of the town annex building a few blocks away from the current location. The new site for the tennis courts would allow for the addition of a couple of basketball courts, as well, and both could be used as a recreation facility for Tisbury School.
The selectmen have asked town treasurer and tax collector Tim McLean to come up with dollar figures where possible, such as moving costs for relocating offices, and to determine what constitutes a reasonable level of borrowing for funding future projects for a town Tisbury's size. Cost projections for a new emergency services facility already are available from a feasibility study completed in 2005.
At the Tisbury selectmen's meeting last week, selectman chairman Tom Pachico commended Mr. Peak, co-chairman Henry Stephenson, and planning board members Peter Duart, Robert Aldrin, and Jamie Douglas for their efforts. "It's yeoman's work - it covers a lot of topics," he said. "I'm sure it will raise a vast array of opinions."
Copies of the written report are available at town hall and in the planning board office at the town annex.