Stop & Shop project back on the MVC griddle for seventh time

Stop & Shop employees have voted to authorize a strike as contract talks continue. — 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.

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.”