There are people still bitter about the way the Stop & Shop renovation project in Vineyard Haven ended in May of 2014. And there are people still cheering a perceived victory against the big international corporation, although when you look at that building — the gateway to the Vineyard for many visitors — it’s hard to imagine a shallower win.
After 10 months in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission process, and hours upon hours of meetings and public comment before the commission and Tisbury town boards, Stop & Shop officials got the message that their project was doomed, and walked away from renovation plans in Vineyard Haven.
Now, it appears, they’re back. No plans have been filed, with the exception of a building permit to demolish the Caleb Prouty House at 15 Cromwell Lane, the first step in what Stop & Shop’s attorney says is a renewed effort to upgrade the Vineyard Haven supermarket.
Stop & Shop is going about this the right way. They applied for a building permit, were clear with the intent of that permit, and it’s been referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for the regional planning agency’s review. It’s the exact opposite of what occurred in the case of the Mill House, where the property owner got and received a building permit that called for “interior demolition” and the contractor bulldozed the building — parts of it dating back to before the American Revolution — without receiving express permission.
What do these two cases have in common? Despite Stop & Shop doing things the right way, it’s high time for town leaders to propose a demolition delay bylaw in Tisbury that would put a halt to everything when the word demolition comes up, and provide the proper time for review. It’s clear that the mandate that any building built before 1900 be sent to the MVC is not always being followed, so another protection is needed.
These two cases both involve houses that are clearly historic, but one was handled appropriately and the other was not.
By going about it the right way, Stop & Shop at least provides an opportunity for the Caleb Prouty House to be spared or repurposed.
This is about the Caleb Prouty House and Stop & Shop. The supermarket company has performed due diligence, and is still willing to allow the historic house to be saved. Once again, through their attorney Geoghan Coogan, Stop & Shop is willing to listen to any and all offers to preserve the Greek Revival house. So if the public really wants to preserve it, now is the time to rally the troops to raise money and have the building moved.
But it’s been five years since Stop & Shop walked away from its renovation project, and nothing has happened in that time to spare the Caleb Prouty House from the wrecking ball. So while we suspect there will be some handwringing over its demise, we doubt there will be any great effort to preserve the house.
We can’t let the history of that house stand in the way of what’s desperately needed in Vineyard Haven — an improved look and an improved shopping experience at Stop & Shop.
When Stop & Shop pulled the plug on the project in 2014, it was a strategic move. The project appeared destined for defeat at the MVC because of the opposition, which included some of the town’s leaders. At that time, we encouraged those town leaders to invite Stop & Shop to the table and find a workable design that they could get behind, and work with the company to win community support.
That hasn’t happened, but there’s still time.
Coogan said Stop & Shop intends to have a smaller footprint than the one proposed in 2014, and would likely feature a housing component, as well. A proactive board of selectmen and planning board would invite Stop & Shop to the table now to ask questions and shape the conversation before it bubbles all the way up to the surface in the form of a proposal.
The town should be doing its own planning for the waterfront, particularly Stop & Shop, which is the focal point. But It’s unproductive to hold applicants back in a planning squabble without bringing a plan to the table and being clear about what the town wants.
Let’s make hope this time around there is more effort to win consensus.