It’s back to the drawing board for Beach Road project

Tisbury officials must come up with a “Plan B” after Ralph Packer declined a 3.5-foot taking in front of his property for a sidewalk.

Michael Cummo

The Tisbury transportation subcommittee met with Ralph Packer last week to discuss the possibility of a 3.5-foot taking from his property to extend a sidewalk 400 feet on the north side of Beach Road as part of a comprehensive redesign of the road corridor from Five Corners to the seawall. Mr. Packer, owner of R.M. Packer Co., a heating and fueling operation and barge depot on Beach Road, said Wednesday that he was unwilling to go along with the plan.

“We met with the town, and we discussed the matter, and we felt it was not appropriate on our end, and the town accepted that,” Mr. Packer said. “And they are moving forward with some other thoughts.”
With that roadblock in place, a transportation subcommittee made up of planning board chairman Dan Seidman, planning board member Ben Robinson, and selectman Melinda Loberg must hastily come up with an alternative plan in order to move forward with the project on the state’s 2017 timeline.

At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, chairman Tristan Israel said he hoped to have a conclusion by the end of the month.

“I would really like by the middle of September that we have a meeting, we have one more discussion, and one way or another we have a decision as to how we want it to go,” he said. “I’m fearful that if we don’t do that, whatever we’re doing, we’re going to lose the 2017 funding and have to wait.”

“I think we need to have another meeting of the subcommittee to see where we are at now that we have a response,” Ms. Loberg said. “I agree we need to push ahead and get a Plan B together.”

Selectmen voted Tuesday to hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 22, to make a decision on how to proceed with the project.

Hybrid hybrid

In a phone call Wednesday, Ms. Loberg said Mr. Packer was concerned the taking would jeopardize future plans for his property.

“The only verbal thing I heard was that at his gas station he wants to keep options open,” she said. “He doesn’t know exactly how he wants to configure some parts of his property, and he didn’t want to jeopardize his ability to plan by giving up certain areas. So that was the deal.”

She said it’s now back to the drawing board with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) design team.

“We’re asking the DOT designer to consider some options within that particular stretch, kind of a hybrid-hybrid,” she said. “I suspect that the next thing that will happen is there will be some kind of subcommittee meeting to review what they sent and see if it’s feasible.”

She said they are trying to work quickly, but fairly.

“We’d like to have it on a fast track; however, we’d like to have it right,” she said. “We want to give everybody a chance to weigh in, and we want to try to get the best possible plan together. That’s the goal. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”

Mr. Robinson said Wednesday in a phone call that if the sidewalk remains a necessity of the project, there are ways to proceed with that. But he said if Mr. Packer doesn’t think a sidewalk is imperative, that may hold greater meaning.

“If he doesn’t feel that there needs to be a sidewalk out to that area, and he’s fine with a crosswalk to the south side, then that tells us something too,” Mr. Robinson said.

He wasn’t sure whether the project could still happen on the 2017 timeline.

“That’s a state decision at this point; they have to meet a certain date or certain protocol to keeping funding in line, and it gets appropriated the closer you get to actually putting a shovel in the ground, and if it hasn’t been appropriated yet, it just gets pushed to the next year,” he said. “Whether they can make things happen quicker than normal, maybe, but the longer we wait, the less and less likely that 2017 is going to happen.”

Mr. Seidman was on vacation and unavailable for comment following news of Mr. Packer’s decision.

400 feet

Beach Road from Five Corners past Packer’s has a 40-foot-wide right of way. On August 5, the planning board proposed a “41-foot hybrid option,” which would provide two 10.5-foot travel lanes with 4.5-foot bicycle lanes and 5.5-foot sidewalks on either side. The plan showed an eventual transition to a “shared-use path section,” which would include the same 10.5-foot travel lanes, but one side would have a 2-foot buffer and 2-foot shoulder, and the other side would have a 2-foot shoulder with a 3- to 4-foot landscape area and 10-foot shared-use path (SUP). It would connect to the current SUP between Wind’s Up and the drawbridge over the entrance to Lagoon Pond.

That SUP design has been the main sticking point. On August 17, the transportation subcommittee, board of selectmen, and representatives from the MassDOT met. Selectmen Larry Gomez and Mr. Israel, both opposed to the plan, said they may be amenable to the project pending the extension of the north-side sidewalk as far as Mone Insurance Agency. The hybrid plan has it ending similar to where it currently ends, near the Shell station. Lengthening the sidewalk would have required a right-of-way extension from 41 feet to 44.5 feet for the section of road in front of Mr. Packer’s property.

Last Friday, Mr. Seidman said if Mr. Packer declined the 3.5-foot taking, they would have to return to the drawing board with MassDOT to see if the north-side sidewalk is still a possibility with the 41-foot right of way.

“It’s just a matter of, is the south side at the bare minimum, because we already have waivers for the road, we have waivers for the shoulder, we have waivers for the sidewalk, so I just don’t know if in the hybrid plan where it sort of switches over, whether that 2-foot buffer, 3- to 4-foot landscape, and then 10-foot sidewalk, is there any give in that,” he said.

Speaking Friday, before Mr. Packer announced his decision, Mr. Seidman remained optimistic. “We had 2,500 feet in discussion and we’re down to 400 feet; that’s steady progress,” he said.