Single condition carries in MVRHS fields site plan review

Pedestrian access to the field from the main road will be prohibited.

The Oak Bluffs planning board is currently conducting a site plan review of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School athletic campus proposal.

Updated Oct. 6

After a choppy deliberation Tuesday between members of the Oak Bluffs planning board for the site-plan review of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) field project, the application was moved ahead with one condition.

The meeting was a continuation of Monday’s initial site-plan review session, at which public comment was heard, and a suggestion made by board chair Ewell Hopkins to funnel pedestrian flow through the existing asphalt parking lot to the west of the campus, or to the south through a proposed gravel lot. The board did not vote at the prior meeting, as they are restricted from voting on an application during the same session as they hear from members of the public and applicants.

At Tuesday’s continuation, Hopkins proposed an additional condition that drew mixed responses from board members.

He suggested that in order to ensure compliance with provisions in the zoning bylaw pertaining to environmental performance standards, a condition be applied that would require the high school to “seek and obtain all environmental permits, sign-offs, orders of compliance, and any other approvals necessary for town boards, committees, and districts which oversee environmental performance.”

Board member Erik Albert said the condition seemed repetitive and unnecessary. “[The school] has to go through this process anyway,” Albert said. “It feels a little broad.”

Hopkins asked him for input on how to strengthen the condition, to which Albert responded, “I don’t know, it’s your ball — you brought it up.”

Board member JoJo Lambert made a motion to move Hopkin’s original condition and his newly proposed condition forward, but board member Bill Cleary said he was also concerned the second motion was too broad.

He referred to town counsel Michael Goldsmith’s letter to the board, stating the specific points of review that they must adhere to.

“It’s kind of like a buyer-beware explanation. He says it’s very important that we do not take on the rigor of what would be involved in either a special permit or a subdivision control application,” Cleary said. “Right now, it all sounds pretty vague to me.”

Although Hopkins said he confirmed with Goldsmith that his proposed condition would not be outside the board’s scope, he agreed to add some specificity.

Lambert’s motion was not seconded, so Albert made a motion to approve Hopkin’s first condition relating to pedestrian access, which was unanimously approved.

After modifying the language in his condition to specifically require compliance with the sewer commission, the water district, and the board of health, Hopkins asked for a motion, which Lambert moved.

Following a long silence, Lambert’s motion on the new condition failed, as it was not seconded.

The final decision to move the site-plan review application forward fell to Hopkins, who reluctantly voted to approve. “I am concerned that we are not speaking at all to one of the primary and remaining areas of authority that we have in this site plan review,” Hopkins said. “With that said, I believe site-plan review is not a tool for approval or rejection — it is an opportunity to improve an application and ensure the voice of the town is heard. In the eight years I have been on the board, I have never rejected a site-plan review application, and I do not plan on doing that starting tonight.”

Review focused on ADA compliance, pedestrian safety

On Monday, the planning board met to hear any words of support, concerns, or questions from the public and the board on issues largely relating to parking, pedestrian access, and handicap compliance. 

Operations project manager for the field proposal Joe Sullivan said he is concerned that extensive testimony has already been submitted to both the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the planning board, and he doesn’t want there to be unneeded repetition in the process. “If the planning board wanted to see that, they would be able to see the testimony that was videotaped through the commission,” he said.

Hopkins said he wanted to make sure the public is heard at the town level. “There may be some repetition, but we will get through it, I’m sure,” he said. 

Rebekah Thomson of the Field Fund read a statement saying that there are “a host of other planning concerns,” apart from the playing surface aspect of the project, of which the Field Fund is the main opponent.

“But we understand that these are not topics you can review tonight, given the constraints of the site-plan review process, particularly because the applicant made the decision to invoke the Dover Amendment — further limiting your oversight authority,” Thomson said in her statement.

Joe Mikos said that to his knowledge, the Dover Amendment is not something that is able to be invoked by an entity trying to obstruct oversight. “It is something that has been sitting on the books since it was first put into law. It was never enacted, it was simply stated,” he said. “For all those who think the school district is some evil empire that enacted something that had never existed before, it is completely untrue.”

Kate DeVane mentioned a bill in the Massachusetts legislature which seeks to curtail Dover, and wondered what that could mean for the process. 

Hopkins reminded anyone wishing to speak that the conversation must be within the planning board’s scope of review. 

According to project designer Chris Huntress, some changes that were elicited through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the planning board include elements of land use, and pedestrian and vehicle safety and circulation. 

“Things like balancing earthwork and cut and fills throughout the site to minimize tree clearing, eliminating any tree clearing along Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, increasing landscape and plant material along Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, and modifying plant lists to include only native plants,” Huntress said. The high school also made improvements to pedestrian circulation and parking throughout the site, and reduced the overall size of the grandstand since their original proposal.

Cleary asked about improved access to the grandstand to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Huntress said the accessible route would get individuals from the parking and drop-off area at the front of the newly constructed field to the grandstand and side of the field, using a hard and level surface with appropriate curb cuts.

In the existing proposal, a paved walkway would come along the outside of the track and over to the field house, then circle in front of the field house and join with the grandstand. 

Those with disabilities would have virtually unfettered access to the elevated lift and the ramp leading onto the grandstand.

All handicapped parking spots that are proposed for access to the track, field, and grandstand are pre-existing at the parking lot adjacent to the current game field.

A new gravel parking lot will be constructed on Sanderson Avenue, containing roughly 80 parking spots to make up for the approximately 75 spots that run along Sanderson currently.

A flashing beacon will be installed at the crosswalk that traverses Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to the existing paved parking lot, but Cleary wondered whether it might be worthwhile to install an additional crossing beacon going across Sanderson and into the gravel lot. “I know it’s not as busy usually, but during game time and when school is letting out, it certainly could be helpful,” Cleary said. 

Huntress said he wouldn’t suggest installing flashing beacons at the second location, generally because a road like Sanderson doesn’t see enough pedestrian traffic to require one. 

Albert asked why the sidewalk leading to the grandstand and the field is so wide, Huntress said that the sidewalk is based on the anticipated size of the crowds the location will need to accommodate.

“Oftentimes you will have cross-country running at the same time as parents are trying to get to games or other events, so eight feet would really be a minimum. Leading up to the stadium field, we recommend 10 feet,” Huntress said. 

The final question from the planning board came from Hopkins, who stressed the importance of isolating the athletic complex from the northern side of Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, where the Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena, the skate park, and the YMCA are located.

“You might be aware that the town has spent about $200,000 redesigning pedestrian access along the northern side,” Hopkins said. He noted that he would like to avoid crossover on the main road as much as possible, and prevent the renovated parking lot near the road from being used as overflow for activities at the ice rink and other events.

He suggested eliminating the planned pedestrian access point between the parking lot and the track, and continue fencing and shade tree planting to the western tip of the lot.

“You want to have access in and out of that parking lot exclusively at Sanderson,” Hopkins said, so as to control all pedestrian traffic across the main road, with the crosswalk and flashing beacons near the intersection of Village Road and Sanderson. 

Updated with the results of Tuesday’s meeting.