Larger sidewalks, altered parking, and a renovated Healey Square are all part of Oak Bluffs vision for its downtown streetscape.
Members of the Oak Bluffs planning board and streetscape subcommittee heard from Craig Miller, principal of Waterfield Design Group, who gave a presentation on his company’s conceptual designs for an updated Oak Bluffs downtown.
Miller, along with associate Tim Wong, have been working on the project since its early days.
The project is split into five parts: Lake Avenue East, Circuit Avenue North, Circuit Avenue South, Healey Square, and Kennebec Avenue.
In Miller’s design, Lake Avenue East will change the parking from parallel to diagonal, adding 16 spaces. A five-foot bike lane will be added between the parking and the pedestrian walkway along the water.
The project is funded by $2.7 million that was approved by voters at the June 2020 town meeting.
One of the biggest changes is altering parking on the north end of Circuit Avenue from diagonal to parallel. This change removes 15 parking spaces, but allows for significantly wider sidewalks on both sides of the road. The west side of the street will increase sidewalk width from 5 to 8 feet, and on the east side from 4 to 12 feet in certain areas. All of Circuit Avenue will be repaved, and new trees will be planted along the sidewalk.
Miller called Healey Square “congested,” and in need of a “makeover.” The new design adds new semicircular benches, opens up the views and access through the square, and creates a new pavement lift near the crosswalk.
Kennebec Avenue will see reinstated parking on the west side of the road, and add a sidewalk on the east side.
In addition to the project areas, Miller said his team is also looking at ways the alleys that connect the Campground to the downtown area can be improved.
The biggest concern among members of the public at Tuesday’s meeting was the south end of Circuit Avenue. Miller said the south end of the street will be repaved and have new foliage, but for the most part, it will stay the same, with no increase in sidewalk width, or parking alterations.
“One of the key factors that drove the decision was that by stopping at Healey Square with the conversion to parallel, we could have a net wash in the loss of spaces,” Miller said.
Selectman Brian Packish called the parking switch the most controversial point of the project.
Jenny Young said she wanted the entire street to be looked at, not just the north end.
“It makes Circuit Avenue be better too, and connects all the businesses way up and to the bottom,” she said.
Ralph Gross said the conceptual project was fantastic. He added that he was concerned about the lack of design on the south end of Circuit Avenue, and wanted to see a more holistic design.
“It feels as though it’s almost two separate experiences that we’re creating with the current plans,” Gross said. “I think there’s opportunities and work to be done to create a consistent experience for the whole of Circuit, not just the northern part.”
Those who spoke liked the direction of the project, but wanted to see more attention to details, such as the design of sidewalks and which trees would be planted.
Bill Engler said his daughter is in a wheelchair, and he would like to see the sidewalks be regraded higher and ADA compliant.
“It’s not just my daughter. Everyone on this call will need that someday. We like to deny we’re aging, but by definition all of us will have a walker someday, and we’ll want to continue to go to those businesses,” Engler said.
Packish said universal access was one of the most important points of conversation when talks about updating the streetscape began.
Amy Billings, a member of the streetscape subcommittee, said it was time for the downtown area to be improved.
“We need new sidewalks, we need the street to be fixed; the trees are definitely past their due,” Billings said.
The project is still in the conceptual phase, and is gathering input from the public. Packish said in its current form, the project is at about a 30 percent design level. Packish said the committee will meet and discuss the public input and set a date for another public forum.
“We are keenly aware we will not be able to make 100 percent of the people 100 percent happy,” Packish said.
More information on the streetscape project is available on the town website at oakbluffsma.gov/444/Streetscape.