Stop & Shop offers Tisbury $1.165 million for expansion headaches

The most recent rendering of the new two-story, 30,500-square-foot Stop & Shop supermarket. — Photo illustration courtesy of M

Tisbury selectmen approved a six-part draft memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Stop & Shop Supermarket Company Tuesday, meant to mitigate the impacts of the company’s proposed Vineyard Haven store expansion project.

The MOA includes a commitment by the company, with a total value of $1.165 million, to support various town projects and initiatives. These include donations to affordable housing, downtown beautification projects, traffic control and mitigation, and public restroom upgrades. The company would also work with the town on construction schedules.

In return, Tisbury would allow the company to use part of the town parking lot for construction staging and lend its support to the project, now under review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact.

On March 20, the MVC held its seventh installment in a public process that began in July 2013 and has begun to test the patience of all involved.

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 announcement of the agreement followed the public portion of the regular Tuesday night meeting.  Although the Stop & Shop was on the regular agenda, town administrator Jay Grande cut discussion short. He said the town had received a draft summary report from a Stop & Shop project facilitator and that the selectmen would review it in executive session at the end of the meeting, then reconvene in open session to discuss it.

Before heading downstairs to meet in executive session, selectman chairman Jeff Kristal told members of the press and the public waiting in the Katharine Cornell Theatre that he and selectman Jon Snyder might have something to announce about the project when they returned. Selectman Tristan Israel was absent.

“I am happy to report we’ve reached a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with regard to the Stop & Shop, not the building, but the parking lot that the town owns,” Mr. Kristal said, when he and Mr. Snyder reconvened in open session 35 minutes later. They voted to approve the MOA, subject to review by town counsel.

Details in the dollars        

According to the MOA, Stop & Shop’s financial commitment includes: $100,000 to the Tisbury Affordable Housing Trust; an additional $10,000 a year for 10 years to the housing trust; $150,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard; and $250,000 for deposit into a town-established fund for downtown traffic mitigation issues.

Stop & Shop also makes a 10-year commitment to the town to donate $10,000 to the Tisbury beautification committee and $30,000 for traffic mitigation issues, including police officer control and maintenance activities in or about the town-owned Water Street parking lot next to the grocery store.

Under the heading of in-kind and construction phase commitments, Stop & Shop pledged an additional $165,000 toward renovations and upgrades to the town’s restroom facility at the back of the Water Street lot, including curbing, landscaping, and sidewalks. Stop & Shop also committed to maintain the parking lot and plantings along the Water Street sidewalk.

In addition, Stop & Shop agreed to relocate the Caleb Prouty House, behind the supermarket at 15 Cromwell Lane, to a storage site mutually agreeable to the town and Stop & Shop. If the town’s housing trust decides to accept a transfer and conveyance of the house, Stop & Shop will arrange and pay for the structure’s relocation from the storage site to a site designated by the trust.

Stop & Shop bought the Caleb Prouty House in February 2012. A report by consultants subsequently hired by the MVC concluded that the house is historically significant and eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We are actively working with two interested parties right now that want the house, so hopefully we can make that work and facilitate a nice, easy transfer of the property rather than a holding spot,” Mr. Kristal said.

The MOA stipulates that the house will be relocated prior to and as a condition of the issuance of a building permit for the project.

Tisbury’s part

The MOA requires Tisbury to indicate its support of the project to the MVC. The town has agreed to keep Norton Lane extension, between Main and Water streets, open to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, to ensure that Stop & Shop will have vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle access to the replacement store’s truck dock, garage, and pedestrian entrances.

The town will also allow Stop & Shop to construct a sidewalk on Water Street in front of the replacement store and to use a portion of the parking lot for construction staging. The town agrees to work cooperatively with Stop & Shop in connection with any redesign of the parking lot.

Tisbury selectmen voted to approve a conceptual plan for the Water Street municipal parking lot on March 11. They agreed, after a discussion with the town’s parking lot committee and representatives from Stop & Shop, that the plan would serve as a working template in the development of the final design.

Geoghan Coogan, a Tisbury attorney and former selectman, who represents Stop & Shop, said the supermarket company has asked the MVC to reschedule the next public hearing, now set for April 17, because two of the commissioners will be absent. The company’s request to schedule the hearing sooner than April 17 doesn’t help because the commission members are away. Under commission rules, commissioners who miss more than one session of a DRI are not allowed to participate in the final vote.

Optimism and hard work

In a telephone conversation Wednesday morning, Mr. Kristal told The Times the agreement is fair and would provide benefits to the town in the short and long term. Mr. Kristal said the MVC review process has been extremely slow, but he is optimistic that with the town’s agreement the process come to an end, and the MVC will approve the project with the conditions outlined in the MOA.

He said people need to look forward. “While people see a mass of a building, I see three properties cleaned up in the downtown area,” he said.

Mr. Kristal said the agreement bodes well for future cooperation. “I feel extremely confident that the town and Stop & Shop, five, ten years down the road, if there is another project, that the town can go to Stop & Shop and ask them to help us out in some fashion.”

In a conversation with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Coogan stressed that the MVC process has necessarily awaited the negotiation of details between the company and the town.

“I think it has taken some hard work to get to where we were last night [April 1],” Mr. Coogan said. “This (MOA) was a piece of the puzzle that’s been very difficult to get to. What’s been difficult to explain is the combination of an applicant, the combination of a commission, and a town who is really a part of the application whether they wanted to be or not. They’ve always been in it because they’re a neighbor, they’re right there. You have a parking lot right next to you, and there are a lot of details you have to deal with.”

Greg O’Brien, a consultant to Stop & Shop, said the mitigation measures included in the MOA were the company’s response to requests from the Tisbury selectmen. “Stop & Shop is doing the best it can in responding with mitigations that benefit the community as a whole, beyond the scope of our project,” he said.

As an example, he pointed to $250,000 in mitigation to improve traffic flow at Five Corners, in addition to $30,000 annually for 10 years for police officer control or other traffic mitigation

“The traffic impact of the proposed new Stop & Shop is less than a six percent increase, as noted in our peer-reviewed traffic study,” he said, “yet Stop & Shop is contributing far beyond any impact for the greater need of public safety at Five Corners.”

And Mr. Coogan pointed to measures outlined in the MOA that give the town continuing, multi-year assistance in addressing problems that exist today, before the reconstruction and enlargement of the market, and that will need to be addressed and readdressed in the future as other changes occur in the neighborhood.