Fresh Stop & Shop store plan returns to the MVC Thursday

A photo illustration shows how the latest design for a new grocery store in Vineyard Haven would look. — Photo illustration courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Commission

Stop & Shop will return to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday night with a set of revised proposals it will present for consideration by the Island’s powerful regional permitting agency as part of its submission to build a new larger Vineyard Haven supermarket in Tisbury.

The hearing, scheduled to begin at 6 pm in the Tisbury Senior Center, will mark the sixth appearance by company representatives before the MVC since the public hearing process began in July.

Over the course of several months, supermarket officials have tinkered and tailored their plan 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 planned new store would include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level.

Greg O’Brien, a consultant for Stop & Shop, said additional discussion surrounding traffic, size, and the architecture of the store should be expected.

“It is our hope that the public hearing process would come to a conclusion soon, given the number and length of hearings,” Mr. O’Brien said in a telephone call with The Times. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and town officials. The process has made this a better project and one that serves the community in significant ways, in terms of a much improved store, area improvements and community benefits.”

According to a written offer submitted to the MVC on January 16, Stop & Shop is proposing a revised stormwater management plan, an updated open space and landscaping plan, free or subsidized bus fare for employees, police officer control of the Five Corners intersection, “delayed demolition” of 15 Cromwell Lane and a $50,500 contribution to affordable housing, among other offers.

More review expected

In an introductory addendum to a staff report on Stop & Shop’s latest offer titled “MVC staff comments on Stop & Shop’s offers of January 16, 2014,” MVC executive director Mark London said, “In the latest written offers, there are several items which Stop & Shop is no longer offering, things they had previously offered in written documents or at public hearings, such as definitely preserving the house at 15 Cromwell Lane or excluding a drug store or bank as possible uses within the store.”

Past issues have included traffic around the Five Corners intersection as well as the size of the proposed store. In their latest bout with the MVC on November 21, commissioners heard two competing traffic studies, one from transportation planning and engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) and the other from Keri Pyke of Boston-based Howard/Stein-Hudson Engineers (HSH), acting as a consultant for Stop & Shop.

Asked what the public can expect Thursday night, Mr. London said a full review of Stop & Shop’s proposal will be up for discussion.

“I think we’ll probably review any changes to the plans, such as the revised architectural drawings, and then spend much of our time reviewing the offers,” Mr. London said in an email to The Times. “The hearing could be closed that night, or could be continued to allow the applicant to revise the offers in light of what comes up at next week’s meeting.”

Longtime commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, owner of Vineyard Electronics, said traffic remains a key issue. “I’m deeply concerned,” she said. “The Five Corners is both the most important and one of the most challenged intersections and it is also the entranceway to the Island.”

Ms. Sibley, chairman of the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC), also noted the complexity of major projects similar to Stop & Shop.

“With these big complex projects, I sort of wish we could open a public hearing, the applicant could go away and then come back with answers,” Ms. Sibley said. “It’s difficult when it’s gone as long as this has. You get to the point where you wish you could say, great, we’ve worked it out, you have to chew over a lot of stuff, particularly when the process changes. But that’s the way things are. In this case, there happened to be a lot to go over.”

Trading places

Against the background of the MVC public hearing process, 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 consolidate his two existing grocery stores into 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.

The MVC unanimously approved Mr. Elio’s application for a new “Trader Joe’s” style market in 2011, following a one-week development of regional impact public hearing process. The site on which he planned to build is the former Coca-Cola bottling plant and most recently a home furnishings store. In 2002, the MVC reviewed a proposal to build a gas station on the site as a DRI but rejected it, citing concerns about increased traffic along State Road, reliance on the automobile in general, and the pressure a new station might place on other Island gas retailers.

In a telephone conversation, Mr. Silva said the “swap,” would resolve traffic and parking issues while maintaining the aesthetic quality of downtown Vineyard Haven by building a smaller, more “to-scale” store.

“I myself always thought it was a bad idea,” Mr. Silva said of Stop & Shop’s plans to build on Water Street. “It’s a free country, I didn’t have a problem with seeing a new Stop & Shop being built bigger, but I think there are a lot of problems that they (MVC) are really not addressing.”

Mr. Silva said he thinks people would be interested in his plan as an alternative to the Water Street location, if they knew it was an option.

Mr. Silva said the idea for the swap came with the help of his friend and Island physician Dr. Michael Jacobs, who has a private practice, Vineyard Medical Services, nearby on State Road.

“I had discussed it with him and it seemed like a brilliant idea,” Dr. Jacobs told The Times. “The idea is to do an exchange where Stop & Shop could build a store further up State Road and keep the traffic out of downtown. In exchange, Elio could build a smaller store in the existing (Water Street) location. Everyone wins.”

Asked why, after drawing up plans and winning MVC approval to build on the High Point lot, he was interested in abandoning the plan, Mr. Silva pointed to a number of setbacks that have continued to cause unforeseen delays, including plans for a sewer line..

“So we started working and getting the sewer hook up that we needed,” he said. “The next step was going to be to start building this fall, and that’s when we started talking to Stop & Shop. So we decided to wait. We’ve got the finances lined up, and we got a contractor lined up. If we don’t do anything with Stop & Shop, we will continue to build as planned.”

Not buying it

“At this point, it’s only a rumor,” Ms. Sibley said of Mr. Silva’s proposal, which would place the new location adjacent to her business property. “This is a quasi-judicial process. That means it is a legal process. So legally we have to go on the facts. Things that might be swirling around on the outside are not a part of the public hearing process, so I consider this to be one of those things, and it’s something we can not consider.”

Stop & Shop consultant Greg O’Brien told The Times that Mr. Silva’s proposal is not even under consideration.

“The only appropriate site for Stop & Shop is the present site on Water Street,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Stop & Shop has spent close to two years carefully designing and reviewing its Water Street proposal. No other sites are under consideration by Stop & Shop.”