The long and winding Beach Road

Public meeting brings property owners at odds with MassDOT.

A plan for a shared-use path on Beach Road would begin near this intersection and travel to the Lagoon Drawbridge. - George Brennan

Several Tisbury residents and Beach Road property and business owners pushed back against the 100 percent design plan for Beach Road presented by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) that has put the town, the state, and property owners at odds, in a public review Thursday evening.

Each month the Martha’s Vineyard Commission holds a meeting devoted to an Island-wide planning issue. Thursday’s meeting was focused on transportation, specifically the shared-use path (SUP) along Beach Road.

MassDOT supervising project manager Thomas Currier took the brunt of public comment, as property owners pleaded to continue brainstorming design ideas to meet everyone’s needs and not just shove the project along.

Tisbury resident and Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway co-owner Nat Benjamin said he was “a little bit disappointed” to hear that any significant changes to the plan would delay it for years to come. “That’s OK. I think we have to get it right. If it means postponement, then postpone it. Far better than to have something we’re not satisfied with. Let’s not rush into this because of some state mandate.”

Currier said MassDOT has been working since on the project since 2009, and the current plan is what they have come up with: “It’s been a long, arduous process, and that’s how we’ve arrived at what we have today.”

Tom McCurdy, a frequent Beach Road bicyclist, said he thinks the plan is dangerous. It will be a major problem, especially at the road shoulder, where vehicles turn next to bicyclists, he said: “I’m very concerned this could be accidents waiting to happen.”

Pam Cassel, owner of Wind’s Up, a watersports store along Beach Road, said her store would be “considerably compromised” because the project would encroach on a significant part of the shop’s parking lot. Her son Jim said several 35-year-old trees he planted with his grandmother would be destroyed when the SUP is built.

Martha’s Vineyard Museum executive director Phil Wallis, which is building its new home across Lagoon Pond, said he was not happy there would be 55-foot poles for power lines that would “emasculate” the view.

Representatives of R.M. Packer Co., one of the large property owners on Beach Road, voiced their concerns with the project, which would encroach on their property.

Ralph Packer said he had been approached by Vineyard Wind to potentially run its operations off his property, but felt they would be deterred by 55-foot poles.

Ralph Packer’s daughter and manager of Tisbury Shell, Debbie Packer, invited Currier to work with her on July Fourth to see the amount of vehicle and foot traffic at their property, and how the design would negatively affect their business. “When you say it doesn’t affect our business, it is incredibly affecting our business,” she said. “You’re going to take from us and make our business difficult.”

“I disagree,” Currier said. “I just think you don’t like the answer I’m giving you.”

“I think the three selectmen of Tisbury have ideas, and they have plans, and they have dreams, but they have to represent us. I feel that most of us on Beach Road will be affected. [The selectmen] should go back to the drawing board, have us in individually, and come up with a better plan. They’re the ones that can call the shots in this moment. They’re our leaders. They were elected to be our representatives,” Ralph Packer said.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said the board did not vote in favor of the shipyard section of the project, and instead voted for a sidewalk design that went into the Packer property, giving people coming from cruise ships a nice way to walk into town.

“We advanced that design, and it was rejected,” Currier said.

“I don’t want to argue with you, but when we got it back, I never really heard that discussion,” Israel said.

Tisbury resident Dan Doyle stood as one of the few public supporters of the project, saying some of the most “neglected” and “broken” areas in Brooklyn were in better condition than Beach Road: “I can’t wait. Inevitably, there will be a phase where people adjust to something new. It’s amazing how quickly people do adjust. That’s my plan, and I think most bikers will do the same.”

The current design will be symmetrical from Five Corners up to Net Result, a Beach Road seafood shop, with a 10.5-foot travel lane, a 4.5-foot bike lane, and a 6.5-foot sidewalk. A new crosswalk between Net Result and Tisbury Shell will end the symmetrical portion, and start the eight-foot SUP on the Lagoon side of the road.

The design plan will also move power lines to the Lagoon side of the road up to the shipyard, where utilities will then go underground. Seven trees will be removed, but will be replaced with 28 trees along the new path, according to Currier.

Currier said the project was at 100 percent design plans, and praised the work of John Tamburrini and John Osorio, two of the project’s designers. “Some say the best project, the best compromise, is where nobody’s happy. We can’t please everybody. If we try to build what everybody wants, we have to just erase everything out there and start fresh, and that’s obviously not an option,” Currier said. Any significant changes at this stage would “probably kill the project,” he said.

Adam Turner, MVC executive director, told the public that design-wise, Beach Road was essentially broken up into “four or five different sections.” Each section proved to be unique in the problems it presented — the width of the road changed in some sections, the shipyard area complicated design, and moving around or through vegetation and beach area proved difficult.

Several commissioners and members of the public raised the issue of the speed limit, which fluctuates from 20 to 40 mph along the road.

“Maybe you should alter the road a little less and the speed limit a lot more,” commissioner Linda Sibley said.

Commissioner Ben Robinson asked if sections of the road could be raised six inches to prevent flooding. Sibley agreed, stressing the major flooding problems at Five Corners that could be prevented if the road were raised. Currier said he would look into the issue.

At the close of the meeting, Dorothy Packer thanked the commission and the MassDOT for putting the public review together, but said it “clarified some things and obscured others.”

Currier said he is still open to suggestions on the project, and any concerns can be directed to him. Now that the design plan is done, the project is looking to acquire utility and drainage easements. “This is going to be a huge improvement, we feel,” he said.


  1. Mr Packer says of the Selectman “They’re the ones that can call the shots in this moment. They’re our leaders. They were elected to be our representatives”. I would say that someone forgot to tell them. They’ve shown zero leadership skills in this arena of Beach Road, the school, the harbor waterfront area etc.

    For Mr Benjamin to say slow down, get it right is so laughable for a project that has been delayed since 2008. You can’t make this stuff up.

Comments are closed.