Morning Glory Farm won approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for an ambitious plan to expand the well-known farm store on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road last Thursday evening.
The process was unusual because until January 1, farm owner Jim Athearn sat on the commission. Mr. Athearn did not seek reappointment, after nearly ten years on the commission. He said the decision was only indirectly related to his appearance before the commission as an applicant. Mr. Athearn did not advocate for the proposal, or participate in any of the meetings or hearings where the Morning Glory Farm plans were discussed.
“He did not participate in anything,” said MVC executive director Mark London in an interview the day after the decision. “He was not involved in any way.”
The land use planning committee met twice on the proposal, and there was a public hearing before last Thursday’s deliberation and decision.
“We thought it was a pretty easy project,” Mr. Athearn said in a phone interview Monday, “right in line with the goals the community has set.”
Mr. Athearn offers a rare view of the workings of the commission from both sides of the table. He said earlier that he did not like the formal nature of the process, which included submitting formal plans he would normally sketch out on graph paper. He viewed complicated calculations to determine acreage and square footage like unpleasant homework.
“I was never good at long-term assignments,” Mr. Athearn said. “Once I was done, I was happy with it.” As a commissioner, Mr. Athearn said that he was aware of the burden sometimes placed on the applicants to pay for architects and fund expensive studies. “Very aware of it, and I’ve often been sympathetic with the applicant when they get put through their paces, or somebody doesn’t like the pitch of a roof, or they are criticized for their plan,” he said.
Mr. Athearn said that there was one thing that surprised him with the process. “I saw how helpful the staff can be in developing the application, which I kind of took for granted,” he said.
The renovation and expansion project would nearly double the retail space, and expand the store’s commercial kitchen.
Plans call for parts of the existing farm stand to be removed, moved to another location, and converted to employee housing. A 2,390-square-foot building will be added for retail produce and food sales. A large greenhouse near the farm stand will be moved, and replaced with a much smaller greenhouse closer to the main building. The new greenhouse will be designed as a retail space.
At Thursday’s meeting, the Morning Glory Farm owners formally offered a long list of conditions they were willing to accept as part of the permit. From the beginning, the biggest issues with the proposal were traffic, and the amount of additional nitrogen that would be released.
Plans call for moving the entrance to the farm stand further from the Edgartown-West Tisbury road, and expand the parking lot to solve traffic problems that have occurred in the past, when traffic backs up as customers wait to get into the parking lot.
Nitrogen loading also concerned the commission. The farm lies within the Edgartown Great Pond watershed. The popular salt pond already shows evidence of damage from nitrogen runoff, according to a state study. Bigger buildings and a bigger kitchen will mean more wastewater.
The farm offered to offset the amount of nitrogen that would be released in wastewater by converting two parcels totaling 1.4 acres to organic production techniques. They also agreed that 1.2 acres currently farmed with organic methods will remain so. Including crop land not covered by the development of regional impact (DRI), Morning Glory Farm will now cultivate a nearly eight acres using organic farming practices.
An indication that there was little doubt about the outcome of the vote occurred when MVC chairman Christine Brown of Edgartown called for a vote, but was reminded that the commission had not yet gone through the formal process of considering the benefits and detriments of the project.
“The redesign of the parking and movement of the access farther way from Edgartown-West Tisbury road is going to improve the traffic situation,” said Linda Sibley, from West Tisbury. “There is a detriment, increased traffic, but it’s been mitigated as much as reasonable, and the other benefits clearly outweigh that.”
“They’re actually going to reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the Edgartown Great Pond, from what it is now,” said commissioner Doug Sederholm of Chilmark.
Throughout the process, the commissioners acknowledged that the farm produces an amount of nitrogen far above the current MVC guidelines.
“The farm by its very nature produces or probably produces more nitrogen,” Ms. Brown said. “If every acre produced that much nitrogen, we would have a problem.”
Ms. Sibley said, “While farming contributes a good deal of nitrogen, which is an issue, the benefit of the product produced is certainly far greater than the benefit of a subdivision.”
A bare quorum of commissioners eligible to vote on the plan was present. Voting in favor were Ms. Brown, Ms. Sibley, Mr. Sederholm, and Bill Bennett of Chilmark, Carlene Gatting representing the Dukes County Commission, Peter Cabana and Ned Orleans of Tisbury, Kathryn Newman of Aquinnah, and John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs.