Tisbury selectmen take new look at old lot

Former fire station land could be used for public parking.

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Selectmen are considering making the fire station lot on Beach Street into a public parking lot for downtown Vineyard Haven businesses. — Gabrielle Mannino

A five-member task force will have less than two months to look at the best system for turning the fire station lot on Beach Street into a public parking lot for downtown Vineyard Haven businesses.

At a meeting Tuesday, the board of selectmen voted unanimously to form the parking task force and set a deadline for Sept. 30 for the panel to report back. The lot has been used to lease parking spaces since the fire station moved to its new location in 2012, with little success.

In fiscal 2019, the lot earned $28,000 after some lease holders stopped using the lot because there was an $800 price hike, Alexandra Kral, an administrative assistant to the town administrator, told selectmen. The annual lease is now $2,000. The number of spots leased dropped from 22 to 14, she said.

When he was on the finance committee, selectman Jeff Kristal recommended putting the lot up for sale to give the town income both from the sale and property taxes. That gained no traction.

“The previous board of selectmen wanted nothing to do with it, especially one member in particular, and it was unfortunate because we lost our shirt down there,” Kristal said.

Then-selectman Tristan Israel was also opposed to making the lot, which has close to 30 spots, a parking lot with frequent turnover, saying it would exacerbate traffic problems near Five Corners.

“This would be a help for businesses. It’s an eyesore down there right now,” Kristal said. “It looks like a barren desert.”

Kral said at $2 per hour, the lot could generate more than $40,000 between May 1 and Oct. 1, assuming it’s always full.

Selectmen seemed to be leaning toward using the lot for public parking, so it will be up to the task force to consider options like meters, a gated system, or a kiosk that uses a numbered system for parking spaces. Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg left open the possibility that some spots could be leased, though Kristal suggested using town tennis courts on Church Street as a parking lot for businesses to lease for their employees.

“We made $1,500 in keys, it costs us over $7,500 to $10,000 a year to maintain [the courts] if it’s done right,” Kristal said. “Every time you drive by … there’s nobody ever there.”

Adam Epstein, who was at the meeting on other business, said in Chicago, where he lives in the off-season, LAZ Parking operates public parking lots. LAZ recently installed a parking system at Martha’s Vineyard Airport, and might be willing to do the project in Vineyard Haven, including improvements to the lot, at a savings to the town.

“I’m not advocating for them, and I’m in no way a fan,” he said. “But companies like that might buy the rights, take the responsibility off your hands, and do the infrastructure work to fix up the site … offloading the responsibility and the maintenance.”

Kral said the town did previously talk to the airport about LAZ when it settled on a kiosk system for the Park and Ride lot. “There are multiple, multiple, multiple ways of solving the problem,” she said, though a gated system isn’t good when there are high winds.

David Ferraguzzi, a member of the town’s Community Preservation committee, said when the idea of using meters in that lot was considered by a previous committee, a Martha’s Vineyard Commission employee suggested it could generate as much as $100,000. “I found it hard to believe we would get that kind of money out of there,” he said.

Selectman Jim Rogers agreed with Kristal that something needs to be done. “I’d like to see one or two things: Let’s utilize it or sell it. Let’s not burden the taxpayers with it,” Rogers said.

Then he took it a step further, and suggested a parking garage. “I’m not opposed — I’m laughing as I say this — to a nicely built structure, Firehouse Parking, with a nice brick façade with two-story parking there.”

Cheryl Doble, planning board chair, provided selectmen with a copy of a plan that the board is working on to use Complete Streets and Community Preservation funds to create a better walkway and bike path to Veterans Memorial Park between the fire station lot and the Cumberland Farms. Creating a paid public parking lot would not affect those plans, Loberg said.

There was some discussion about parking spots that are owned by the adjacent timeshare units, which get access through the town lot.

“Are we getting any remuneration for that access?” Ferraguzzi asked.

There is no payment, but Fire Chief John Schilling offered some historical perspective, saying that when it was an active fire station, firefighters used the spots owned by the timeshare during the off-season, but had to give them up when tourists arrived.

Loberg suggested the arrangement with the abutting property needed more research.

The five-member parking task force will include a member of the business association, a representative of the police department, a selectman, a planning board member, and a representative of the DPW. They’ll be appointed at the board’s next meeting, which has not been scheduled.

In other business, the board went over some more details about Beach Road Weekend with Esptein, including the parking/transportation plan and the solid waste removal plan. Offsite parking will be available at Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena, the airport, Edgartown School and Tisbury School, with 23 shuttle buses running routes that will also include ferry terminals, Epstein said.

Lagoon Pond Road and Causeway Street will be closed during the three-day festival, Aug. 9-11, though there will be access for residential property owners and some businesses, Police Chief Mark Saloio said. “In many respects, the people on Causeway are going to be the least inconvenienced [by the festival],” Saloio said, because of the road closures.

Epstein said he has a contract with Bruno’s to supply a roll-off container for festival trash. There will also be both 60 trash bins and 60 recycling bins, though only food vendors will be doing composting, he said noting the problem with contaminating recycling.

In a bit of a surprise, Epstein, who was granted a beer and wine license Friday, said the beer and wine will be served in cans to avoid having an excess of containers by adding cups.

“Wine in a can?” Loberg said. “Son of a gun.”

“It’s a long way from the elegance of a bottle of wine,” Epstein added.

Meanwhile, selectmen approved the closing of Church Street on Sunday, August 11, for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ annual Chicken Alley Art Sale, even though it’s on the same weekend as the third and final day of Beach Road Weekend. The road will be closed from 12 noon to 5 pm for the event.

Selectmen also considered an agreement between towns and Sheriff Bob Ogden about new equipment to support the regional communications center. The board agreed to suggest some edits based on feedback from Saloio and Schilling, saying the towns should have “oversight authority” over how money is spent on the communications equipment. The way the agreement was presented to selectmen, the deal only gives towns an advisory role, Schilling said. The town would be entering an agreement with no effect on how the money is spent, he said. “The final decision falls with the sheriff’s department,” Schillling said.

The agreement is back in the hands of the town’s attorney to work out wording with the other five Island towns, as well as Ogden.