Vineyard Nursing Association move approved by commission

The property at 29 Breakdown Lane off Holmes Hole Road in Tisbury where the Vineyard Nursing Association plans to make its future home. — Photo by Janet Hefler

A recent decision by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) clears the way for the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) to move ahead with plans to establish a permanent home.

The VNA announced an agreement to buy 29 Breakdown Lane in Vineyard Haven from interior design business owner Julie Robinson last May. Since the property already was permitted by the MVC as a development of regional impact (DRI), the VNA’s proposed modifications triggered an automatic referral to the commission under the rule, “once a DRI, always a DRI.”

The MVC voted unanimously on October 6 not to review the VNA’s project in a DRI public hearing. The commissioners also voted to accept modifications to the building and property as specified in a site plan and in offers made by the VNA.

“It certainly was a relief to get through that part of the process,” VNA chief executive officer Robert “Bob” Tonti said in a phone conversation with The Times last week. “We’re now scheduled to go in front of the various town boards, and we expect that to go reasonably smoothly.”

The next move

The VNA moved from the old Martha’s Vineyard Hospital in June 2006 because of construction of the new building to a location behind Woodland Plaza in Vineyard Haven off State Road. The agency moved again in 2008 a little further down State Road to offices at 15 Merchant’s Court.

Mr. Tonti said the purchase agreement with Ms. Robinson was contingent on the MVC’s review and addressing any potential issues that might arise. With completion of the MVC process, he said, “We’re hoping to close on the new property as soon as possible.”

Although the VNA’s lease at Merchant’s Court is up in March, Mr. Tonti said it may have to be extended.

“We can’t do anything until we own the building,” he pointed out. “Once we do, we have to renovate the inside, and there are a lot of logistics involved, as well.”

Ms. Robinson has already relocated her interior design business to a new log cabin building at 510 State Road in West Tisbury.

As the only certified home health care organization on Martha’s Vineyard, the VNA provides skilled nursing, physical and occupational therapy, and personal care for more than 1,500 people each year, according to press releases.

The VNA’s decision to purchase the Breakdown Lane property was a departure from previous plans. The agency launched a four-year fundraising campaign to raise $1.6 million in funds to secure a permanent home in the summer of 2010.

“We had a successful first year,” Mr. Tonti said. “We’ve raised about half the money so far and had a very good response this summer. We’re very, very pleased with the program and hope it continues over the next three years and that we’ll have a building that’s debt-free.”

At the start of the fundraising campaign, the VNA said it intended to buy the Merchant’s Court building. In May, however, the agency announced plans to purchase the Breakdown Lane building when it became available, for about half the cost of the other property.

Since then, Mr. Tonti, VNA director of development Amy Houghton, and Schofield, Barbini and Hoehn engineer Chris Alley worked with the town of Tisbury and MVC staff to solve the two issues the commission considered key: nitrogen loading from the property into the Lake Tashmoo watershed, and parking.

Their collaboration resulted in solutions that put the VNA’s project on track with Tisbury’s future plans for smart growth, and the town’s and MVC’s water quality mitigation efforts.

A helpful hook-up

The building at 29 Breakdown Lane is currently served by a septic tank. The almost half-acre property is located in Tisbury’s B-2 business district in the Tashmoo Pond watershed, which the MVC has categorized as a nitrogen-impaired pond.

An MVC water quality policy sets strict limits on how much nitrogen loading from wastewater is allowed from development projects in the Tashmoo watershed area. The VNA proposes to change the use of the property from a retail/storage facility to office space, which would not meet the MVC’s target nitrogen loading rate for the Tashmoo watershed.

The VNA worked with MVC staff, Tisbury department of public works director Fred LaPiana, and members of Tisbury’s wastewater advisory committee and sewer flow review board to come up with a solution.

After considering several options, the VNA offered to install a sewer main sized to carry the future wastewater load from the rest of the B-2 district to Tisbury’s wastewater treatment plant off High Point Lane, not far from Breakdown Lane.

“Our primary goal here is to hook up to the town wastewater treatment plant, and to do that we need approval at town meeting next April,” Mr. Tonti told The Times last week. “If we do that, that’s the easiest solution, and that’s what we’re striving for.”

At the MVC meeting Mr. LaPiana said the VNA’s offer to pay the cost to install a sewer pipe would dovetail with Tisbury’s plans to put a wastewater infrastructure in place when a connector road between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and State Roads is constructed.

“We see this as an opportunity to extend a pipe to our wastewater plant, which will address the town’s need to push forward to future sewering,” Mr. LaPiana said. “This project will help us leverage the cost to get a main pipe to that area, so when we know we’re ready to do other sewering, we can.”

Mr. LaPiana said the wastewater plant could handle the VNA’s wastewater load, and that Tisbury’s sewer flow review board already reviewed the plan and recommended that the board of public works draft an article for its approval at town meeting.

If not approved, as a backup solution the VNA proposes to install a new, reportedly more efficient on-site FAST de-nitrification system. The agency offered to set aside $50,000 in escrow for the construction of either option.

The only downside to the de-nitrification system is that although it would produce wastewater effluent with a nitrogen-loading rate less than the MVC’s limit, runoff from the property would put the numbers above the allowable amount.

After some debate, the commissioners agreed they would accept the small overage if the de-nitrification system ends up being installed. MVC executive director Mark London said it would be important to clarify that the commission’s water quality policy makes special allowances as such for public housing and institutions that benefit the public.

Parking, the perennial problem

The other issue to resolve was parking spaces, which are currently undefined at the Breakdown Lane property.

Town regulations for the number of parking spaces differ for a retail business and an office building. The VNA’s parking needs fluctuate from 15 to 20 parking spaces for normal operations up to 45 spaces for a one- to two-hour weekly meeting.

Mr. Tonti said the VNA would meet with the planning board and zoning board of appeals regarding a waiver to reduce the number of required spaces from 45 to 27. In the interim, the agency proposed a site plan with 28 defined parking spaces around the building and is looking for additional spaces to lease nearby.

Tisbury plans to build a small public parking area on land adjacent to the VNA’s proposed new location that would offer another option for overflow parking.

“It just so happened the VNA came in and could take advantage of our future planning efforts,” Mr. LaPiana said.