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Commissioners Erik Hammarlund of West Tisbury (left), Joan Malkin of Chilmark and John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs put the Stop & Shop representatives through the paces. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Following a two month hiatus in the public hearing process, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) picked up Thursday where it left off in January in its review of a Stop & Shop proposal to build a new, larger supermarket on the site of its decrepit Vineyard Haven store. In a grueling four hour meeting, the commissioners reviewed the latest set of proposals in detail, one by one. Stop & Shop representatives responded to their comments and the public joined in.

Many of those proposals were unchanged since the MVC concluded the last public hearing on January 23. Stop & Shop had asked that the hearing process be put on hold until Tisbury reached a decision on the design of the municipal parking lot that is adjacent to the market site.

The MVC hearing, held in the Tisbury Senior Center was the seventh installment in the eight month long public review that began in July 2013.

Kathy Newman-Linda-Sibley.jpg
Commissioners Kathy Newman (left) of Aquinnah and Linda Sibley of West Tisbury reviewed the company’s latest offers.

Over the span of more than two hours Thursday, the commissioners reviewed, tailored and tinkered with 12 offers from Stop & Shop. These included a wastewater management plan, open space and landscaping design, traffic and transportation, including truck deliveries and employee parking, a construction management plan, and defining, once and for all, what constitutes a grocery store.

The commissioners declined to review at length several offers that remain contingent on town approval. These include the relocation of a house at 15 Cromwell Lane that the town considers historic, a still to be determined payment for police traffic control at the Five Corners intersection, as well as affordable housing for Stop & Shop employees, and the design of the municipal lot.

The hearing began at 6:30 pm. By the time it ended at 10:15 pm, extended by chairman Brian Smith an extra 15 minutes in order to allow for additional public comment, the commissioners had agreed to hold the eighth and, they said, likely final public hearing, on April 17.

Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings, including its existing store, in order to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market.

The nitty gritty

The commissioners bore into the details of each offer.

“I just want to make sure, when you say external sign illumination, you mean lights, shining on a sign, or do you mean an illuminated sign?”  West Tisbury commissioner Erik Hammarlund, a lawyer, asked Stop & Shop reps.

Appearing deflated and weary in the wake of their seventh public hearing, Stop & Shop representatives (left to right) Deborah Farr, Tisbury lawyer Geoghan Coogan, traffic consultant Randy Hart, and architect Chuck Sullivan answered questions about the project.
Appearing deflated and weary in the wake of their seventh public hearing, Stop & Shop representatives (left to right) Deborah Farr, Tisbury lawyer Geoghan Coogan, traffic consultant Randy Hart, and architect Chuck Sullivan answered questions about the project.

As they made their way down the list, Mr. Hammarlund continued to ask Stop & Shop for further clarification and specifics.

“What does shall be controlled by mean?” Mr. Hammarlund asked in reference to an offer to have the store manager control night lighting and noise from trucks backing up.

Mr. Hammarlund, who has expressed concern that Stop & Shop might compete with local businesses by selling a variety of products, also looked for a definition of what it means to be a grocery store.

“I’ve been saying since day one, the concept of saying, ‘we’re going to expand as a grocery store,’” Mr. Hammarlund said. If you want to be a grocery store, sell groceries. I go to Stop & Shop all the time, I buy all sorts of things.”

Exasperated, commissioner Doug Sederholm interjected. “He said it 20 times. He has said it 20 times, that it’s going to be a grocery store,” Mr. Sederholm, a lawyer who represents Chilmark, said.

Geoghan Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman representing Stop & Shop explained to commissioners that if the store sells anything other than groceries, it would compromise their application.

“If there’s a cafe proposed, or a pharmacy proposed, I believe that would be a change of use,” Mr. Coogan said.

Traffic and transportation generated considerable discussion among the commissioners.

Mr. Smith said he would like to see more of a commitment between Stop & Shop and the town to resolve the overall traffic issues in Vineyard Haven.

High School varsity hockey team members (left to right) Alexander Vukota, Tyson Araujo and Brian Fraser turned out to support the Stop & Shop proposal.
High School varsity hockey team members (left to right) Alexander Vukota, Tyson Araujo and Brian Fraser turned out to support the Stop & Shop proposal.

“That’s really what we need to do,” Mr. Smith said. “We don’t need to not develop Vineyard Haven, we need to fix the problems. And that may be part of your effort to get your store up and going.”

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs wanted to ensure that the exterior signs for the supermarket will be compatible with Vineyard sign aesthetics.

“Who is designing or determining that? Is it the town? Mass DOT?” Mr. Breckenridge asked. “Mass DOT wants to have big, huge, overpowering signage. I think it’s critical that the signs, while very useful, very purposeful, need to be done to help with the flow of traffic, but they have to be done in a semblance of scale.”

Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans asked Stop & Shop to set a deadline for the relocation of the Cromwell Lane house. “Why don’t they find a place for it to go before they start building,” Mr. Orleans said. “That will keep everybody honest.”

The offers and discussion did little to mollify Mr. Orleans, who made it clear throughout the hearing that he was unhappy with the entire project.

“It seems to me that the main entry point to Martha’s Vineyard through the Steamship Authority should be greeted by something that represents Martha’s Vineyard, not something that represents a grocery chain store from Cape Cod,” Mr. Orleans said. “If we wanted to be on Cape Cod, we would go to Cape Cod, but there’s nothing in the proposal up to this point that really represents, in the location that we’re talking about, anything about Martha’s Vineyard and the character of Martha’s Vineyard and the culture of Martha’s Vineyard.”

In a follow up conversation with The Times Friday morning, Mr. Orleans, asked what design he would prefer, said he did not know, but he does know he does not want to see a larger store. He summed up his position. “I am opposed to Stop & Shop at that location,” Mr. Orleans said.

Public chimed in

Once the commissioners had finished with the Stop & Shop, it was time for public officials and the public at large. Planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson was first.

Mr. Stephenson, who served on the parking lot redesign committee and drew up the conceptual design, said he wanted to ensure that the elements incorporated in the design were not “negotiated away,” including the shared use path, the entrance on Cromwell Lane and the frontage on water street.

“It’s very hard, because you don’t want to take pieces of the design apart and just select one part over the other,” Mr, Stephenson said. “We want to maintain a coherent design, so I’m concerned that the intent of that parking lot design holds together.”

Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant was tepid in her comments. “I will say that I have met with the applicant, and I feel we had a productive conversation, and I feel like we’ve made some progress. Was it enough progress, I don’t think so,” Ms. Grant said.

Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant asked the MVC to wring more support for public transportation out of Stop & Shop.
Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant asked the MVC to wring more support for public transportation out of Stop & Shop.

Ms. Grant said she wanted Stop & Shop to subsidize more services. “I really feel strongly that an affordable delivery service be conditioned as a part of this project,” Ms. Grant said. “The key element, if this is the location for this project, we need to eliminate trips to that region, and the way to do that is to offer something that’s not there now.”

Ms. Grant said that the VTA received revenue based on their performance. “If our ridership goes up, our funding goes up, if our ridership goes down, our funding goes down, it’s a direct correlation,” Ms. Grant said. “And so I would really hate to feel that we’re losing choice riders based on our performance because they’re sitting in traffic.”

Tisbury selectman John Snyder was optimistic that progress had been made.

“We have been as a board working closely with, and sometimes against, the Stop & Shop representatives,” Mr. Snyder said. “We are I think, very close to an agreement, but of course there’s a lot in the details that are still being nailed down, and I really can’t comment on a lot of that.”

Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the Tisbury historical commission, acknowledged the difficulty of finding a spot to move the Cromwell Lane house, but he said it needed to be part of the deal.

Members of the high school hockey team, varsity captain Tyson Araujo, along with his teammates Brian Fraser and Alexander Vukota, turned out to support the company proposal.

“Stop & Shop supports us, they’ve been very generous with our program and have made our experience, our four year experience in our hockey program very memorable,” Mr. Araujo said. “Not only with our program, but with the whole community, they are very supportive, and we urge you to approve them.”

Erika Berg, a resident of Oak Bluffs, said it’s time to accept change.

“I think we should just accept the change, realize that as educated adults, Stop & Shop as a corporation is better at ensuring the quality of the building and continue to show compromise and compliance,” Ms. Berg said. “Let’s just end this and approve it, let’s just do it. I think everyone’s afraid of change and that’s what this whole thing is. It’s going to better the situation all around.”

Ms. Berg’s sentiments were supported by Vineyard Haven resident Jennifer Griffiths.

“I strongly endorse the store in Tisbury,” Ms. Griffiths said. “I’m really anxious to see it built as proposed. I think that the downtown area is in desperate need of self revitalization.”

Vineyard Haven resident Nevin Sayre readdressed size. “I would like to commend Stop & Shop and the MVC for getting to a place where some compromise has been made; it’s a step in the right direction,” Mr. Sayre said. “But I think it’s the scale, size matters. And when it’s this big and it has this much impact and the traffic, on construction, on parking, on carbon footprint, on all these things, why do we approve something so massive? I don’t think we need to do that. I think the scale needs to fit with our little village.”

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The proposed bowling alley would be built on the site of a former laundromat on Uncas Avenue. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Monday evening, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC)  land use planning committee (LUPC) unanimously agreed to recommend, with conditions, developer Sam Dunn’s proposed bowling alley/entertainment center in Oak Bluffs.

“I think from the town perspective, this is a major improvement,” commissioner Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs said at the conclusion of the meeting.

“We have a good developer who’s taken an eyesore and made a reasonable plan,” added commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs.

LUPC chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury added that the bowling alley would be an attraction during the shoulder seasons, a goal of the most recent Oak Bluffs master plan.

Proposed floor plan of the bowling alley and entertainment center.
Proposed floor plan of the bowling alley and entertainment center.

The LUPC is the next to last step in the MVC approval process. At the conclusion of public hearings, the LUPC analyzes the benefits and detriments of a project and its consistency with the Island Plan, with town regulations and with town plans. Once the LUPC has finished its analysis, the committee can make a recommendation to the full commission to approve, to approve with conditions, or to deny the application. The full commission is not obliged to follow, in full or in part, the subcommittee’s recommendation

Since the public hearings began on February 6, the MVC has discussed possible conditions for approval that have included hours of operation, parking, affordable housing, additional de-nitrification, noise and light mitigation, and landscaping.

Sound mitigation has been a major issue. After the first public hearing, in response to abutter concerns, the commission asked Mr. Dunn for an independent acoustic study to more exactly determine potential sound levels that could be generated by the bowling alley.

Mr. Dunn enlisted acoustical consultants Cavanaugh Tocci Associates to provide the requested acoustical study — the same firm that developed the successful sound mitigation protocol for Dreamland after abutters had expressed similar concerns. Cavanaugh Tocci Associates responded with a sound mitigation plan for the abutting wall with a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 62, per the guidelines of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).  According to the ASTM, at STC 30, “loud talking is audible through a wall, at STC 50, loud sounds like musical instruments can be faintly heard and 99% of the population is not annoyed. Anything over 60 is considered “superior soundproofing, most sounds inaudible.”

Although commissioner Joan Malkin of Chilmark reiterated her reservations at Monday’s LUPC meeting, Ms. Sibley appeared to speak for the majority saying it was not a realistic goal to hear absolutely no noise.

“Mr. Dunn has made extensive offers at his expense to mitigate noise that may occur,” Mr. Breckenridge said. “He’s stepped up to the plate and gone above and beyond. [STC] 62 is excellent.” He added that the STC would be measured after construction and that Mr. Dunn may have to take additional sound mitigating measures if he didn’t meet the projected STC.

The LUPC also considered abutters’ concerns about drunken behavior, and their requests that the bar serve beer and wine only.

“If I were persuaded that beer and wine only would make a difference in public drunkenness, I would be for it, but I am not convinced it would,” Ms. Sibley said. Mr. Breckenridge noted the MVC was not presented with any studies that showed a beer and wine restriction reduced drunken behavior.

The proposed bowling alley/entertainment center would be located on Uncas Avenue, at the edge of, but within, the town’s business district. It would include 10 bowling lanes, a bar, a restaurant, two golf simulators, a game room, an event room, and two apartments that would qualify as affordable housing. Mr. Dunn estimates the cost of construction at $2.5 million.

The project will go before the full commission for a vote tonight.

Depending on the final MVC decision and the subsequent pace of the town approval process, Mr. Dunn said that the exterior of the steel modular structure could still be completed by the June 1 exterior construction moratorium for the B-1 district in Oak Bluffs.

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In the mid-1970s, when the ground rules for implementing the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s enabling legislation were being written, a general goal was to identify and devise protective protocols for fragile landscapes, for delicate and delightful environmental features, and for open space, which was under assault. A companion objective was the protection from regional regulatory intrusion into town centers. Since those hallowed, ingenuous moments, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has spread itself, with the witless, complacent connivance of Island voters into downtown environs, most of them well protected by zoning rules and vigilant planning boards.

The most recent version of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) developments of regional impact checklist sparked some wan sense of relief. Practical people — town officials, business owners, contractors, and others — have recognized the spreading intrusion of the commission’s regulatory appetite and attempted to correct the regional agency’s course.

This question of which developments the MVC should play a role in regulating and which should be reserved to the towns is a legacy of what was the very genius of the 1973-1974 effort that led to the creation of the Vineyard’s super-zoning planning and regulatory authority.

Islanders spurned Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s 1972 Nantucket Sound Islands Trust legislation because of its top-down, federal government approach. Islanders saw it correctly as a clumsy effort to transform the Vineyard into a kind of national park that would, if the legislation passed, hold the Island in suspension, unchanging and monochromatic forever. It was a national, indiscriminate bludgeon.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s enabling legislation, envisioned as a prophylactic against the Kennedy Bill, was to be a locally inspired and locally managed effort to add protective authority to overwhelmed town government regulators. Local, to the authors of that legislation, meant the towns, in all their individual natures and aspirations. It was not a state-level corollary to the federal effort, and homogenizing the six Island towns as they grew and changed was not a goal of Governor Francis Sargent’s effort. But, in practice the self-referential nature of regulatory regimes and the instinct for reinforcing and expanding its authority has led the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to do what Governor Sargent attempted to avoid by checkmating the Islands Trust Bill.

The first slate of elected Martha’s Vineyard Commission members in 1974 — this writer was one of them — were determined to tailor development of regional impact and districts of critical planning concern rules to the inclinations of the six communities, each one having become, over generations, an aggregation of like-minded souls, different in every case from its neighbors in other towns.

And, that early foundational effort, derived from the spirit that prevailed in the development of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission itself, also attempted to reserve for the towns the use of the MVC to help but never to trample or intrude upon the management of their individual lives.

That spirit has been eroded over time, and today the differentiation among Island towns is threatened with extinction, as the MVC inflicts itself on even the most unarguably local issues, such as the permitting of a Main Street pizza parlor in a business area.

Or, recall the history of the Girl Scout Camp expansion off Middle Road in Chilmark. There, the scouts’ expansion plans fell within all the town zoning and building rules. There was no possible argument that the contemplated changes had regional impact. But, harrying neighbors pressed the town selectmen to make a referral to the MVC. Their defense of their action was to say that the referral was a way to get the Girl Scout plans aired in a public hearing, because the efforts by critics in lawful municipal forums had not achieved the critics’ aims. In the Girl Scout Camp matter, the MVC had a finger hold on the project, because development permits from Chilmark were needed for the project to proceed.

Which brings us to the bowling alley proposal for Oak Bluffs. It is a development of a sort that can be and was overseen by the town planning board and the rules in place. Or, if a more discriminating set of rules that recognized the potential for distress when an established commercial district abuts an established residential area, the planning board might have asked voters for carefully targeted fresh tools. For example, planners could have amended the commercial district so that developments of certain types, while specifically allowed by the existing bylaw in all parts of the district, would require stricter scrutiny or be disallowed altogether within some specified distance from the commercial/residential boundary line. The town has access to tools to deal with bowling alleys in commercial neighborhoods adjacent to residential neighborhoods. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to recognize the town’s right to control such decisions on its own.

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Stop and Shop executives want to rebuild their existing market in Tisbury. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Stop & Shop market representatives reiterated many of the arguments they have made during five earlier public hearings at a sixth public hearing before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday. Frustration on both sides of the table set the tone for the meeting, attended by opponents and proponents gathered in the Tisbury Senior Center.

Prior to the hearing, commissioners and Stop & Shop representatives said they were ready to see the hearing come to a close. But a snowstorm last week prevented a Tisbury planning and design committee, established to address issues surrounding the town parking lot adjacent to the market, from gathering to address the applicant’s most recent offers to address town concerns.

As a result, MVC executive director Mark London said the MVC process would continue to a seventh public hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 20. In addition to the parking lot, Mr. London said outstanding issues included the size of the proposed store and the fate of a house at 15 Cromwell Lane that is designated as a historic structure.

The latest rendering of the two-story, 30,500-square-foot market shows what ferry passengers would see exiting the terminal parking lot.
The latest rendering of the two-story, 30,500-square-foot market shows what ferry passengers would see exiting the terminal parking lot.

Despite the MVC decision to continue the public hearing process, supermarket consultants Greg O’Brien and Bill O’Brien said,  in comments following the meeting, that  the hearing and the company’s plans to build a new store are moving in the right direction.

“We felt the meeting on Thursday was very positive,” Greg O’Brien told The Times in a conversation Friday.

The Stop & Shop representatives said they now have a clearer understanding of what the MVC is looking for, particularly the need to relocate the 15 Cromwell Lane house. Up to now, the Stop & Shop representatives said there appeared to be no interest on the part of anyone to take the house.

“We’re going to expand the search, and we’re going to continue to speak with people,” Mr. O’Brien said. “I think that everyone realizes after last night, that the commission has spoken, the residents have spoken. We want to work with commission members, we want to work with residents to find a place for that home. We get it.”

Stop & Shop plans to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings to make room for a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market, nearly doubling the size of the current Water Street store. The new store would include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level.

Torture continues

In recent weeks,, behind the scenes, Elio Silva, owner of Vineyard Grocer and the nearby Tisbury Farm Market on State Road, and his agent, Robert Sawyer of Tisbury, a real estate broker and instructor, have promoted the notion that rather than build on its current site, Stop & Shop executives should look to a swap.

Mr. Silva has plans on the drawing board to build a new three-story, 11,180-square foot complex that would include a grocery store and four apartments on property he owns on the corner of State Road and High Point Lane just a stone’s throw from Cronig’s Market, the Island’s other supermarket.

Although Stop & Shop representatives have said emphatically that their current location is the only one under consideration and that such a swap is not practical, or even an option, the unsupported notion appeared to gain some traction with at least one commission member.

“What is it about this particular location down at Water Street that it is so important to Stop & Shop that they’re willing to go through the type of torture you’re going through now?” Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans asked supermarket representatives Thursday.

Deborah Farr, director of real estate for Stop & Shop, said supermarket representatives are dedicated to providing the Island with a higher quality place to shop, one that is a vast improvement over the current market on Water Street.

“You deserve better, our customers deserve better,” she said. “We need to do something.”

Mr. Orleans, who compared the public hearing process to a “charade,” said he is tired of playing games.

“It seems to me there are so many angles to this whole project,” Mr. Orleans said in a reference to a swap. “It seems to me we’ve been playing games. I’m tired of playing games. I would hope that my colleagues are tired of playing games. Why are we continuing to play these games, instead of taking some other action?”

Referencing an earlier question in the hearing process about alternate locations, Mr. Orleans persisted. “As far as I’ve been able to figure out, there is still another location out there, and as far as I know, as of yesterday, that location is still potentially available,” he said.

Lawyer Geoghan Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman who is representing Stop & Shop in the public process, said at this point, switching locations was not an option.

“Let’s set the record straight, there is no other site,” Mr. Coogan said. “It’s not on our radar. Period.”

Mixed reviews

Also Thursday, opponents and proponents sounded familiar themes. Tisbury planning board co-chairman Henry Stevenson expressed his concerns about the size of the store and its influence on  traffic at Five Corners.

“The planning board has asked the town of Tisbury for a broader study of downtown circulation and to also consider what alternatives there are because frankly because putting a few extra cops on the corner of Five Corners is really not going to be a solution,” Mr. Stevenson said.

Holly Stevenson, Mr. Stevenson’s wife and a former MVC member,  said she is not in favor of the new store. “I think the Stop & Shop is too big. It’s too big for Vineyard Haven, it’s was too big for that spot,” Ms. Stevenson said. “If Stop & Shop goes in there, it will be very convenient, a cash cow, and wonderful for everybody else on the Island who comes in on a car. But for the town’s people, I don’t think it works at all. It turns Vineyard Haven into a service area and not a town. We need a town.”

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority,  once again asked Stop & Shop to pay attention to the need for year-round affordable housing for Stop & Shop workers.

“It’s not a Stop & Shop problem, this is an Island problem, it’s a gap, it’s an affordability gap,” Mr. Vigneault said. “So what we’re looking at is where we can we as a community help workers on the Island, workers that we need, in shops like Stop & Shop doing services for us, to continue to be available, and to keep their roots and put down new roots and stay here and raise their families.”

Vineyard Haven resident Lorraine Clark said she supports the new store unequivocally. “I’m here only and completely to support Stop & Shop,” Ms. Clark said. “I love the building, it’s going to brighten up that whole area. That whole area is junky.”

Ms. Clark said the MVC should consider the long-term benefits of expanding the store. “Why start now on a smaller scale store when in ten years we have to go through this again?” she said. “I’d shoot myself; in fact, after I’m done here I’m going home to poke needles in my eyes.”