MVC closes hearing for Alliance Community Church expansion

Alliance Community Church, 1 Ryan's Way, Oak Bluffs — File photo by Michelle Gross

Alliance Community Church leaders and neighbors may have glimpsed a bit of light at the end of the regulatory tunnel Thursday, when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed the public hearing on the church’s application to expand. The process began in January and included five public hearings over a six month span.

The MVC will keep the written hearing record open until Monday, December 16, to allow public comment. The Island’s regional permitting body is expected to begin permit deliberations on Thursday, December 19.

The MVC took up the planned expansion as a development of regional impact (DRI) in January after representatives of the church formerly known as Nova Vida, asked for a permit to expand on their existing property in Oak Bluffs.

If approved, the church will build a 4,500-square-foot addition that would include a 4,500 square-foot basement. When added to the existing 7,000-square-foot building already on the property, the proposed expansion would result in a total square footage of 16,084.

Located in a residential neighborhood on Ryan’s Way off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, the size and use of the church have been the subjects of ongoing debate between neighbors and church representatives ever since the MVC first approved the 150-seat church as a development of regional impact (DRI) in 2008. Then, the church was approved for a 150-seat chapel on the second floor of the existing building and a 28-child daycare center on the bottom floor. The daycare center has since moved and building plans have been dormant.

Lesser of two evils

Thursday night, MVC staff member and DRI coordinator Paul Foley went through the church’s offers with the commission step by step prior to comment and discussion.

Tisbury member at large Josh Goldstein addressed the members of the public who oppose the church’s plans.

“Pick your poison,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Do you want the old plan or the new plan?”

Elected to the commission in 2012, Mr. Goldstein said that as a freshman member on the MVC, he wanted further clarification from abutters to the project.

“I’m curious as to what they as abutters and members of the public would prefer? They’re going to get something,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Do they want something that meets a better energy code that has better wastewater and is acoustically tight? Or do they want what was approved in 2008 that was not as environmentally friendly and maybe not as nice? It seems to me like it’s really the lesser of two evils.”

Kris Chvatal, an abutter to the church and a member of the Oak Bluffs planning board responded.

“I bought into the road in 2010, fully aware that that property was going to become a church,” Mr. Chvatal said. “And I fully accept the church being there in its original iteration, but this is much larger, much more intrusive much more out of scale.”

Russell Wendt of 19 Ryans Way, also an opponent, said the wastewater issues continue unresolved.

“Most of the paperwork that has been done since 2008 has been generated with the assumption that this property was indeed permitted as a boarding house. It was never permitted as a boarding house,” Mr. Wendt said.

MVC commissioner Brian Smith asked Mr. Wendt how that information was pertinent to the current application.

Mr. Wendt said the wastewater and nitrogen figures that have since been collected are “erroneous” and have been miscalculated based on “fictitious numbers.”

“I hate to see everyone wasting their time,” Mr. Wendt said. “We seem to keep beating our head against the wall, concerning ourselves with this when that is a big problem right there.”

Project engineer George Sourati responded to Mr. Wendt’s claim by comparing the new findings to previously approved DRI’s in 2008.

“None of the nitrogen calculations had anything to do with whether there was a boarding house at the site or not,” Mr. Sourati said.

Bruno Delavera, a member of Alliance Community Church, also addressed the commission Thursday.

“I’ve seen the abutters of Ryan’s Way for the last seven years, and every single meeting, they bring up something different,” Mr. Delavera said. “So that means, every time they bring something up it needs clarification by the pastor or by the attorney and then they change their subject.”

Mr. Delavera said he has heard everything from wastewater and nitrogen levels to building size and religion, and he’s ready for some resolution. “I remember them saying that it was nothing about nationality, nothing about Christianity. My point is, is it going to keep going on and on and on?”