Tisbury selectmen, public review new parking lot redesign

A proposed redesign of the Water Street parking lot by consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin features more greenery and wider parking aisles and no restroom. — Illustration by Vanasse Hangen B

Six years after the latest revision, Tisbury is considering a new design of the town’s downtown parking lot, sandwiched in between the Stop and Shop and police department. More vegetation, wider lanes, and safer access for bicyclists and pedestrians are the key elements mentioned most in public discussions of the possible redo of the Water Street lot, during a meeting of the Tisbury selectmen Tuesday.

Opinions split sharply over whether to keep or remove the town’s public restrooms, an element that affects the number and arrangement of parking spaces. No decision was made and the parking configuration will be the subject of further meetings and public hearings.

Selectman chairman Jeff Kristal refereed the spirited debate. About 25 people attended. At the start, Mr. Kristal said he would limit the discussion to one hour and the speakers’ comments to two minutes each.

Possible redesign of the town owned parking lot surfaced during discussions about the Stop & Shop company’s proposal to expand its Vineyard Haven store, now mired in Martha’s Vineyard Commission review.

Stop & Shop wants to consolidate three abutting properties and build a new two-story market that would include a new parking spaces for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level.

Although the town parking lot is not included in the MVC application, Stop & Shop has agreed to include its redesign and foot the bill as part of the project. The parking lot, reconfigured in 2007 based on a drawing by planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson, has been the subject of criticism for the tight turning radiuses and confusing traffic patterns.

Last October, the selectmen established a nine-member town parking lot planning and design committee that includes town administrator Jay Grande, Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angie Grant, Mr. Stephenson, finance and advisory committee member Mary Ellen Larsen, Stop & Shop representative Randy Hart, and four at large members, Alan Bresnicki, Robert Fuller, Polly Brown, and Hyung Lee. Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London also participates as an observer.

In a recap of the committee’s efforts, Mr. Grande said Tuesday’s discussion was the culmination of a months long process intended to remedy deficiencies in the existing parking lot’s layout and to come up with a plan and design to address them.

Mr. Stephenson and Mr. London summarized concepts that had found general agreement among the committee. They presented three graphic illustrations, one by Mr. London, one by Mr. Stevenson, and one created by Stop & Shop traffic consultants Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) at no charge to the town.

Mr. Grande told the selectmen that of the three concepts, he thought VHB’s best represents the committee’s design objectives. All three concepts include three aisles of parking, more vegetation and trees between aisles, and a shared use path on the west side of the parking lot. Parking spaces would be straight in, rather than angled as they are now, and space within the parking aisles increased.

The current lot has 63 parking spaces. The VHB plan has 68 parking spaces. Mr. London said his plan is “about 65 spaces.” Mr. Stevenson’s plan shows 64 spaces.

Mr. London said one of the lot’s critical elements is the construction of 10-foot shared use paths for bicyclists and pedestrians on the north and west sides of the lot, in keeping with a master plan agreed on by the town.

Opinions were mixed regarding Mr. Grande’s endorsement of the VHB design.

Mr. Lee, a committee member and architect, said he thought Mr. London’s and Mr. Stephenson’s concepts were more in keeping with the committee’s consensus, which was to create a design with a public path and public space.

Ms. Grant said she wanted the exit from the lot nearest the store to be decreased from two car widths to one, to eliminate having two cars turning left or right from the lot, which sometimes blocks traffic headed to Five Corners.

“I don’t feel the VTA’s needs were overly accommodated in this process,” she said.

Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the Tisbury historical commission, said the real thought behind the design should be how to support Main Street businesses and make the connection from the wharf up to Main Street.

“Because at the end of day, do we not want commerce that walks off that boat to spend its dollar on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, hopefully before it spends it, no offense intended, in Oak Bluffs or Edgartown?” he asked. “So we have to be visionaries as we work through this process and make sure we’re not one-dimensional and just addressing the needs associated with Stop & Shop.”

Not much comfort

Mr. Grande said although the committee agreed on many of the design objectives, members were most divided on what to do with the comfort station area.

Stop & Shop has offered to include public restrooms that would be accessible from the building’s exterior off the parking lot and the VHB design does not include the comfort station.

Mr. Stephenson removed the comfort station from the lot in his drawing, with the idea that public restrooms would be relocated in the former ambulance bay of the police station. Currently, it has has a small restroom upstairs off the lobby. Mr. London did not include the comfort station in his drawing, but said space for a seating area at the west end of the lot could accommodate one in the future, if needed.

“A public comfort station is crucial to the town,” Tisbury resident Dawn Bellante said. “It should not be in a private building.”

“We ought to offer amenities somewhere, as a tourist town,” selectman Tristan Israel agreed. “I want to see the public restrooms; that’s something I feel strongly about.”

Selectman Jon Snyder took exception. “We have public restrooms at the Steamship Authority, public restrooms in the police department now, and we have public restrooms being offered in Stop & Shop. I don’t know that we need another structure.”

Assuring all present that they were mindful of history’s lessons, Mr. Kristal said, “I want to assure you that we want a plan that doesn’t perpetuate the planning mistakes that were implemented in the past.”

In concluding the discussion at 8 pm, Mr. Kristal said he thought the committee was very close to reaching a consensus on all of the issues. The selectmen voted to approve his recommendation that the parking lot committee gather for two more meetings.