Stop & Shop hearing number seven concludes

Commissioners Erik Hammarlund of West Tisbury (left), Joan Malkin of Chilmark and John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs put the Stop & Shop representatives through the paces. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Following a two month hiatus in the public hearing process, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) picked up Thursday where it left off in January in its review of a Stop & Shop proposal to build a new, larger supermarket on the site of its decrepit Vineyard Haven store. In a grueling four hour meeting, the commissioners reviewed the latest set of proposals in detail, one by one. Stop & Shop representatives responded to their comments and the public joined in.

Many of those proposals were unchanged since the MVC concluded the last public hearing on January 23. Stop & Shop had asked that the hearing process be put on hold until Tisbury reached a decision on the design of the municipal parking lot that is adjacent to the market site.

The MVC hearing, held in the Tisbury Senior Center was the seventh installment in the eight month long public review that began in July 2013.

Over the span of more than two hours Thursday, the commissioners reviewed, tailored and tinkered with 12 offers from Stop & Shop. These included a wastewater management plan, open space and landscaping design, traffic and transportation, including truck deliveries and employee parking, a construction management plan, and defining, once and for all, what constitutes a grocery store.

The commissioners declined to review at length several offers that remain contingent on town approval. These include the relocation of a house at 15 Cromwell Lane that the town considers historic, a still to be determined payment for police traffic control at the Five Corners intersection, as well as affordable housing for Stop & Shop employees, and the design of the municipal lot.

The hearing began at 6:30 pm. By the time it ended at 10:15 pm, extended by chairman Brian Smith an extra 15 minutes in order to allow for additional public comment, the commissioners had agreed to hold the eighth and, they said, likely final public hearing, on April 17.

Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings, including its existing store, in order to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market. The plans also include a parking lot for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level beneath the market.

The nitty gritty

The commissioners bore into the details of each offer.

“I just want to make sure, when you say external sign illumination, you mean lights, shining on a sign, or do you mean an illuminated sign?”  West Tisbury commissioner Erik Hammarlund, a lawyer, asked Stop & Shop reps.

As they made their way down the list, Mr. Hammarlund continued to ask Stop & Shop for further clarification and specifics.

“What does shall be controlled by mean?” Mr. Hammarlund asked in reference to an offer to have the store manager control night lighting and noise from trucks backing up.

Mr. Hammarlund, who has expressed concern that Stop & Shop might compete with local businesses by selling a variety of products, also looked for a definition of what it means to be a grocery store.

“I’ve been saying since day one, the concept of saying, ‘we’re going to expand as a grocery store,’” Mr. Hammarlund said. If you want to be a grocery store, sell groceries. I go to Stop & Shop all the time, I buy all sorts of things.”

Exasperated, commissioner Doug Sederholm interjected. “He said it 20 times. He has said it 20 times, that it’s going to be a grocery store,” Mr. Sederholm, a lawyer who represents Chilmark, said.

Geoghan Coogan, a former Tisbury selectman representing Stop & Shop explained to commissioners that if the store sells anything other than groceries, it would compromise their application.

“If there’s a cafe proposed, or a pharmacy proposed, I believe that would be a change of use,” Mr. Coogan said.

Traffic and transportation generated considerable discussion among the commissioners.

Mr. Smith said he would like to see more of a commitment between Stop & Shop and the town to resolve the overall traffic issues in Vineyard Haven.

“That’s really what we need to do,” Mr. Smith said. “We don’t need to not develop Vineyard Haven, we need to fix the problems. And that may be part of your effort to get your store up and going.”

Commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs wanted to ensure that the exterior signs for the supermarket will be compatible with Vineyard sign aesthetics.

“Who is designing or determining that? Is it the town? Mass DOT?” Mr. Breckenridge asked. “Mass DOT wants to have big, huge, overpowering signage. I think it’s critical that the signs, while very useful, very purposeful, need to be done to help with the flow of traffic, but they have to be done in a semblance of scale.”

Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans asked Stop & Shop to set a deadline for the relocation of the Cromwell Lane house. “Why don’t they find a place for it to go before they start building,” Mr. Orleans said. “That will keep everybody honest.”

The offers and discussion did little to mollify Mr. Orleans, who made it clear throughout the hearing that he was unhappy with the entire project.

“It seems to me that the main entry point to Martha’s Vineyard through the Steamship Authority should be greeted by something that represents Martha’s Vineyard, not something that represents a grocery chain store from Cape Cod,” Mr. Orleans said. “If we wanted to be on Cape Cod, we would go to Cape Cod, but there’s nothing in the proposal up to this point that really represents, in the location that we’re talking about, anything about Martha’s Vineyard and the character of Martha’s Vineyard and the culture of Martha’s Vineyard.”

In a follow up conversation with The Times Friday morning, Mr. Orleans, asked what design he would prefer, said he did not know, but he does know he does not want to see a larger store. He summed up his position. “I am opposed to Stop & Shop at that location,” Mr. Orleans said.

Public chimed in

Once the commissioners had finished with the Stop & Shop, it was time for public officials and the public at large. Planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson was first.

Mr. Stephenson, who served on the parking lot redesign committee and drew up the conceptual design, said he wanted to ensure that the elements incorporated in the design were not “negotiated away,” including the shared use path, the entrance on Cromwell Lane and the frontage on water street.

“It’s very hard, because you don’t want to take pieces of the design apart and just select one part over the other,” Mr, Stephenson said. “We want to maintain a coherent design, so I’m concerned that the intent of that parking lot design holds together.”

Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant was tepid in her comments. “I will say that I have met with the applicant, and I feel we had a productive conversation, and I feel like we’ve made some progress. Was it enough progress, I don’t think so,” Ms. Grant said.

Ms. Grant said she wanted Stop & Shop to subsidize more services. “I really feel strongly that an affordable delivery service be conditioned as a part of this project,” Ms. Grant said. “The key element, if this is the location for this project, we need to eliminate trips to that region, and the way to do that is to offer something that’s not there now.”

Ms. Grant said that the VTA received revenue based on their performance. “If our ridership goes up, our funding goes up, if our ridership goes down, our funding goes down, it’s a direct correlation,” Ms. Grant said. “And so I would really hate to feel that we’re losing choice riders based on our performance because they’re sitting in traffic.”

Tisbury selectman John Snyder was optimistic that progress had been made.

“We have been as a board working closely with, and sometimes against, the Stop & Shop representatives,” Mr. Snyder said. “We are I think, very close to an agreement, but of course there’s a lot in the details that are still being nailed down, and I really can’t comment on a lot of that.”

Harold Chapdelaine, chairman of the Tisbury historical commission, acknowledged the difficulty of finding a spot to move the Cromwell Lane house, but he said it needed to be part of the deal.

Members of the high school hockey team, varsity captain Tyson Araujo, along with his teammates Brian Fraser and Alexander Vukota, turned out to support the company proposal.

“Stop & Shop supports us, they’ve been very generous with our program and have made our experience, our four year experience in our hockey program very memorable,” Mr. Araujo said. “Not only with our program, but with the whole community, they are very supportive, and we urge you to approve them.”

Erika Berg, a resident of Oak Bluffs, said it’s time to accept change.

“I think we should just accept the change, realize that as educated adults, Stop & Shop as a corporation is better at ensuring the quality of the building and continue to show compromise and compliance,” Ms. Berg said. “Let’s just end this and approve it, let’s just do it. I think everyone’s afraid of change and that’s what this whole thing is. It’s going to better the situation all around.”

Ms. Berg’s sentiments were supported by Vineyard Haven resident Jennifer Griffiths.

“I strongly endorse the store in Tisbury,” Ms. Griffiths said. “I’m really anxious to see it built as proposed. I think that the downtown area is in desperate need of self revitalization.”

Vineyard Haven resident Nevin Sayre readdressed size. “I would like to commend Stop & Shop and the MVC for getting to a place where some compromise has been made; it’s a step in the right direction,” Mr. Sayre said. “But I think it’s the scale, size matters. And when it’s this big and it has this much impact and the traffic, on construction, on parking, on carbon footprint, on all these things, why do we approve something so massive? I don’t think we need to do that. I think the scale needs to fit with our little village.”