Committee to review Church Street charging project

New elder care facility project seeks funds.

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Edgartown selectmen approved a committee to review the VTA’s electric charging station on Church Street. — Gabrielle Mannino

On Monday, Edgartown selectmen approved the membership of the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) Church Street committee.

The formation of the committee arose from a petition article at the July 13 annual town meeting. Voters approved a nonbinding referendum to conduct a full public review of the project, which seeks to place electric-induction bus chargers at the Church Street bus stop.

The committee is made up of Dukes County commissioner Keith Chatinover, VTA administrator Angela Grant, Edgartown VTA advisory board member Mark Snider, energy committee member Alan Strahler, Martha’s Vineyard Commission senior planner Bill Veno, and Edgartown residents Jane Chittick, Sara Piazza, Julia Livingston, and Doris Ward.

The committee was approved 2-0; selectman Margaret Serpa was not present at the meeting.

The project has already been approved by the Edgartown historic district commission, and a study done by the MVC said the project would not have a negative impact on the area. The article seeking another review passed, 96-83. The VTA is looking to transition to an all-electric fleet of buses, and the $1.4 million charging station would allow buses to be charged during the day.

In order to accommodate its fleet of electric buses, the VTA wants to install overnight slow-charging stations at its headquarters at the Airport Business Park. In order to extend the operational range of the electric buses, the VTA proposes induction charging pads that wirelessly boost each bus battery, almost like a wireless phone charging port. In addition to the location of the chargers, another concern is that the VTA’s conversion to electric buses means their buses will be wider. The VTA has traditionally preferred buses that are no more than 8 feet wide, due to the rural roads and narrow village streets that comprise segments of its service routes. Presently, Build Your Dreams (BYD) is the only manufacturer of electric buses equipped for induction charging. All but the shortest BYD buses are 8.5 feet wide, which is the standard width of transit buses on the mainland.

Chittick has consistently been a vocal opponent of the project, and at Monday’s meeting, she took issue with the committee’s makeup. “I think this is heavily weighted toward the VTA, and not so much for the townspeople,” Chittick said. “This is very different from what I expected it to be.”

Selectman Arthur Smadbeck said the committee’s charge is to discuss the induction chargers and its appropriateness on Church Street. “The town meeting is the highest authority in the town, and they have asked that the Church Street location for the induction chargers be reconsidered,” Smadbeck said in part. “We have residents on sort of both sides of the issue.”

Town administrator James Hagerty clarified that whatever decision the committee makes is not binding.

In other business, Renee Lohman of Navigator Elder Homes New England gave selectmen a presentation on the proposed long-term homes care facility in Edgartown. The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is in the process of purchasing land off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.

For several years, Windemere, the hospital’s long-term-care facility, has been operating at a loss. Hospital CEO Denise Schepici has said the facility is outdated, and unable to be renovated. The hospital is in talks with Lohman and Navigator to create sustainable, transformative elder care for its 47 residents through a concept called Green House homes.

Green House homes are a popular and modern model of eldercare that houses residents in private rooms, offering communal kitchens and living spaces. The homes feature 12- to 14-bedroom homes, with staff living in separate buildings nearby. Navigator would hire staff for the facilities.

In her presentation, Lohman said the project is actively fundraising, and recently received news that they will only have to raise $4 million to $6 million dollars — a vast difference from the $12 million that it was expected to cost. Lohman said this was due to a loan program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture for community facilities. 

Now the project is seeking zoning and sewer approvals, and will be fundraising on the Island. Lohman is also planning to have extensive community engagement, to educate the public. 

Navigator will also have to secure the transfer of the Windemere Skilled Nursing Home license.

Lohman hopes for construction to begin by early winter 2021.