MVC concludes public hearings on M.V. Museum

The old Marine Hospital overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor is the new site of the Martha's Vineyard Museum. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

It’s all over but the voting for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum development of regional impact (DRI) review at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), which concluded public hearings on the $24 million project at a packed meeting room on Thursday night.

Over the course of two hours, commissioners heard Tisbury residents and town officials express a mix of support and concern about the project’s potential impact on the neighborhood.

Phase one of the high-profile project involves renovating the three-story Marine Hospital, built in 1895; the demolition of a brick addition built in 1935; and the construction of two new buildings with a total area of 10,000 square feet.

A new 10,000-square-foot gallery wing and 800-square-foot connector will be built in phase two.

Abutter Mark Clark said he endorsed the museum but had concerns about noise, especially during construction. “We’d like to see a six-foot cedar fence and [tree] planting before construction starts,” he said. “It won’t interfere with the construction process.”

Mr. Clark also asked that more mature trees be planted than have been proposed. “We heard that in five years the trees would a great buffer. There’s no reason they can’t start out with full trees.”

Tisbury zoning and building inspector Ken Barwick, speaking as a private citizen, was critical of the scope of the project and the lack of public outreach by museum officials. “I fully support the museum, but I do not support them on this site,” he said. “I think they overpower the site in relation to the neighborhood that surrounds them.”

Mr. Barwick also expressed concern about the financial viability of the project. “I’ve spoken with other towns that have nonprofits that have been developed; their funding dried up and went elsewhere, and in most cases the towns ended up purchasing these properties themselves,” he said. “Some [nonprofits] work, most don’t. I hope they make it, but if they fold, I’m not sure what recourse the town has to recoup that kind of money and keep it viable for town use.”

Mr. Barwick added that museum outreach should have gone further than direct abutters.

“I spoke to a lot my neighbors, and half of them didn’t even know this project was in the works,” he said.

In an email to The Times on Friday, Dan Waters, Martha’s Vineyard Museum director of development, said $15 million has been raised for the $24 million museum. The remaining $9 million will be raised in cash and pledges that will be paid prior to the end of the project.

Responding to Mr. Barwick, museum executive director Phillip Wallis told commissioners that the museum has held three events for neighbors since 2012. “The last one was using a list from the MVC with 72 individuals adjacent to the property,” he said. “That may not have been sufficient, but we’ve had very favorable response. Last summer we also had four open-house parties on the front lawn, where 300 to 400 people came each time … We welcome interaction with neighbors. We understand this is a big deal, and we want to do it correctly.”

In addition to the impact on abutters, the MVC staff report included concerns about traffic impact and nitrogen loading in Lagoon Pond, which is already classified as “impaired” by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Bill Scully, from Westford-based Green International Affiliates, said their study showed that museum traffic would not add significantly to the mayhem at Five Corners. “Even at peak time in the summer, museum traffic will only increase volume by 2.5 percent,” he said.

Current plans for the museum are based on a tie-in to town sewering. The Tisbury sewer advisory board and Tisbury selectmen have approved the tie-in, but voters still have to approve the decision at special town meeting on April 25.

“We are hopeful the tie-in will be approved. If not, we’ll be back in front of you,” Mr. Wallis told commissioners. If the tie-in is not approved, an onsite septic system with enhanced nitrogen reduction will have to be engineered and approved.

“We’re thrilled to have this project in Tisbury,” Tisbury planning board chairman Dan Seidman said. He read aloud from a short list of requests the board recently submitted to the MVC, which included small electric shuttle buses running from the Steamship Authority (SSA) terminal, and that officials “seriously consider acquiring a secondary access for cyclists, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles.”

Mr. Wallis said the current timeline has construction beginning in late May and reaching “substantial completion” by March 2018.

“We would like to open in June 2018,” he said. “If we don’t start by this June, we won’t make that goal. We all know how important it is to be done by summertime.”

After extensive deliberation about when to deliberate, commissioners voted to keep the public written record open for two weeks, and for the Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) to meet on Monday, April 24, and then make a recommendation for the full commission, which will deliberate and decide on Thursday, May 4.