The new parking system at Martha’s Vineyard Airport hit a bit of turbulence, to put it in airplane terms.
“In my opinion, things did not start off well, at all,” Robert Rosenbaum, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, said at a meeting Thursday. “I happened to be driving down here on Monday, and witnessed cars on grass bypassing the gate. When I called to notify people, I was informed that there were no signs out. I’ve heard quite a few complaints.”
Airport assistant general manager Geoffrey Freeman called it a “soft opening” of the new parking system, which was introduced by contractor LAZ Parking. Some Island residents are just not used to dealing with parking lots because there’s nothing like it on the Island, he said.
“It’s like changing the blinker to the roundabout,” he said, referring to the change at the intersection of Barnes and Edgartown–Vineyard Haven roads that was widely debated.
And while commissioner Linda Zern criticized the lack of publicity leading up to last month’s launch for some of the confusion, and airport manager Ann Richart said press releases went unpublished, that was inaccurate. The Times had stories when the parking gates were first approved and after a press release was issued last month by LAZ.
LAZ general manager Scott Woodbine told the commissioners that the company continues to offer support by stationing employees at the gates to help airport customers. “With a new opening, it is trial and error,” he said.
He said LAZ has also made some changes to signs to address issues raised during the launch, like a bigger sign indicating the first four hours are free for Vineyard residents, and an anti-glare screen.
“I don’t know if signs are the problem,” he said of people driving over the grass. “It’s users bypassing the gates.”
Even with free parking for the first four hours for Vineyarders, they still have to go through the gates. A discount is also offered for extended parking, though that is provided through the Our Island Club Card, something that’s been criticized by some Island residents, Richart said.
Rosenbaum pointed out that since Cronig’s stopped offering discounts through the Island card, some people have stopped purchasing it. “It’s not worth it,” he said. “Should be something that we keep aware of.”
The commission unanimously approved having Matthew O’Brien, a project engineer for consultant McFarland and Johnson, seek permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to release about 10 acres scattered through the airport’s business park for possible development.
The lot sizes are as small as one-third of an acre and as big as 6.7 acres, which could be subdivided, O’Brien told the commission.
He estimated it would take about six months to get an answer from the FAA.
“It’s great that we’re finally going to release some of this land,” commissioner Rich Michelson said.
During his report later in the meeting, Mike Eldridge, facilities manager, said some of the lots being considered for release don’t have water or wastewater hookups.
There is other vacant land in the business park, but some is protected habitat for moths and whippoorwill, O’Brien said. One of those lots, known as lot 34, is under lease, but may require permission from the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species, O’Brien said.
Earlier in the meeting, the commission appeared ready to allow Nick Catt to sublease that lot to UPS to unload trucks, on the recommendation of the commission’s land-use subcommittee.
But because there was no detail of when the sublease would begin or end, some commissioners balked at the idea.
Michelson had a different objection. The commission is in a legal battle with Catt over what it says is overdue payments on his lease for a laundromat on airport property. That issue was discussed in executive session.
“We have a lot of information that is not that good,” Michelson said. “We should wait until we have everything in place so we don’t have any other problems.”
Richart said Catt is also proposing to build a car wash on that lot. The sublease would end if the car wash gets the go-ahead, she said.
The commission voted 4-1, with commissioners Clarence “Trip” Barnes and Zern abstaining, to allow the sublease pending receipt of a sublease agreement. Michelson was in opposition.
In a follow-up interview, Rosenbaum said there is no evidence that any of the lots in the business park were ever released by the FAA, so the commission has been going through the process of having them released. Lot 34 has been used sparingly for storage, so the UPS loading and unloading should be an OK use, he said.
In other business, Harald Findlay introduced himself to the commission as the new airport manager at Katama Airfield in Edgartown.
Katama, which has 500 landings per season, has a relationship with the Martha’s Vineyard Airport purchasing fuel, but owes money for past deliveries.
In a follow-up interview, Richart said the amount could be as much as $20,000, though they are going through invoices to get at the exact number.
“We’re anxious to get this behind us,” Findlay said.
There is also some concern about whether the fuel tank at Katama has been certified. Until it is, commissioner Don Ogilvie, who participated in Thursday’s meeting remotely, said no fuel should be pumped into the tanks.
Findlay said the state Department of Environmental Protection has given the OK, but an inspection will be completed within the week.
Rosenbaum reported that the airport has been approved to borrow a total of $875,000 against its capital projects to provide cash flow to the airport. An additional $620,000 loan is still awaiting approval by the state legislature, with the clock ticking toward the end of legislative session June 30.
Michelson asked if the “repo man” would be coming if the loan is not approved. “No,” said Richart.
The commission authorized Richart to negotiate a contract with airport planner Jeff Wheeler, who she said could help with a strategic plan for the airport. Richart said he will charge $75 per hour.
“That’s next to nothing,” Rosenbaum said.
Rosenbaum also reported on a meeting he had with Philippe Jordi, executive director of Island Housing Trust, and Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, about what role the airport could play in the Island’s housing crunch.
Calling it a “good, productive meeting,” Rosenbaum said the airport will look at what it can do within the confines of FAA regulations.
Jordi and Turner are working on proposals for a follow-up meeting, Rosenbaum said.