The West Tisbury planning board voted 4-0 to approve, with some conditions, Island Autism Group’s plans for its Island Autism Center on 515 Lambert’s Cove Road (Child Farm) after a continued public hearing on Monday. Board member Matt Merry recused himself since he is an abutter to the property. The public hearing for the property is now closed.
Island Autism Group presented the campus — consisting of a hub house, two shared four-bedroom houses, a barn, three two-bedroom cottages, a farmstand, and plans for a summer camp — during the initial public hearing in December, which the board referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Island Autism Group executive director Kate DeVane said the commission asked for “very few” changes to its initial master plan.
DeVane, Union Studios architect Alanna Jarowski, and Kris Horiuchi from Horiuchi & Solien Landscape Architects showed the board a “slightly shortened version” of what they presented to the commission.
“We’ve been working on the design and setup of the program for over two years,” DeVane said.
Jarowski went through the site plans, planned buildings, and the changes made after meeting with the commission. Horiuchi presented the planting and lighting plans for the campus.
“At the time we showed [to the board] a slightly different configuration of what was happening along the property line for the two properties south of the Child Farm property, and that’s really the main adjustment that was made during the Martha’s Vineyard Commission presentation,” Jarowski said. “In collaborating with the neighbors and discussing what they would really prefer in terms of that kind of screening, we made adjustments to reflect that.”
Along the property line of Cathy Weiss, who expressed concern about the project during the December public hearing, a six-foot-tall stockade fence would be placed for 400 feet before transitioning into a coated wire fence of the same height, according to Jarowski. Other neighbors asked for “integral planting.” Another adjustment Jarowski mentioned was slightly changing the southward direction of the farmstand porch, which was toward the parking lot, eastward for “ease of circulation.”
When presenting the farmstand and the barn, DeVane said although “the jury is still out” on what animals can be housed there, some options included chickens and donkeys. Larger livestock like cows would be too big for the program’s farm training purposes.
After the presentation, the public had an opportunity to ask questions. The abutters who spoke were in favor of the center’s mission, but were worried about the possible impact to the neighborhood. Two main points of concern came from Merry and Weiss, who spoke through her daughter Beka El-Deiry because of technical difficulties. Merry expressed concern over possible traffic issues from the summer camp that would take place on the campus.
“The commission, in their decision for the amount of traffic that was going to be coming in and out of there, I think is pretty low (17 individuals) compared to the conversation you and I had [in June] with the potential for up to 50 campers per day,” he said. “I’d like the planning board to basically get a real sense as to what the camps are going to bring to Lambert’s Cove Road during the summer, and the potential for increase in traffic.”
Island Autism Group plans to bus campers to the campus, but Merry pointed out that not all of the participants will take the bus. He listed West Tisbury School as an example where although there is a bus option, many parents drive their children to and from school.
DeVane said changes were made after the commission did another traffic study. One of these relates to the fact that the campers are part of an “extended year program” offered by the Island’s public school system. Many of the children who are a part of this program are from low-income households, with either two working parents, or only one parent, unavailable during the day, according to DeVane. “That means 9 until 1 in the summertime, those kids are all in the same building in the summer,” she said. “So, yes, the majority of them will be picked up from their extended year programming and go to the Island Autism Center on buses.”
Merry said over time, additional traffic may be added to the area as the center grows, and a traffic study may be necessary after the center is “up and running.” Following up on Merry’s comment, board member Leah Smith said a “provision for review” could be needed, and board chair Virginia Jones concurred.
Weiss wanted an eight-foot-tall fence along her property line, instead of the six-foot-tall fence. The board also received a letter from Weiss about this.
“It would be, I feel, unfair to ask us to put in an eight-foot fence, since an eight-foot-tall fence would require us to set it back from the property line, and would require a permit,” DeVane said, adding she has discussed the possibility of a seven-foot-tall fence, which Weiss apparently heard from West Tisbury zoning inspector Joe Tierney would not need a permit. “I feel that a six-foot-fence is sufficient. It’s going to cost us $50,000 to put that fence in, and we understand as good neighbors, we’re prepared to put in the six-foot-fence. I did have a discussion with Cathy that if she wanted a seven-foot-fence, that I would need her to finance the difference, which I think would be a fair bargain because … the project is more expensive than when we started the permitting process, and we feel like putting $50,000 into a fence for our neighbors is a substantial and generous thing for us to do.”
DeVane said the seven-foot-tall fence would cost an additional $8,000 to finance, which she said was according to the fence contractor. “I just ask that we not be asked to pay the extra $8,000. We’re happy to put in the seven-foot-fence, but it’s going to cost $8,000 more,” she said.
El-Deiry said the fence height is one of the “holes and gaps” people miss while development takes place, and Weiss is looking for flexibility from Island Autism Group.
“I’m hoping a neighborly flexibility will come into play. I think any neighbor would want that,” El-Deiry said.
DeVane said she has met with Weiss “more than 10 times” now, and has been accommodating to meet her needs, such as moving the van parking spaces in the plans.
“We really are working very hard to be good neighbors to everybody, and I feel we get there most of the time,” DeVane said. “But I think it’s important to remember we’ve done a lot.”
DeVane added that the extra height on the fence is a hit to their budget, and they would not be able to put in the plantings they may want.
Merry pointed out that “these holes” El-Deiry mentioned would be more difficult to deal with after the center is established.
Board administrator Jane Rossi said Massachusetts allows residents to “have a seven-foot [tall] fence by right,” and wanted to know where DeVane “came up with the six feet in height.” DeVane said, “We offered six feet of fencing because six feet of fencing costs $50,000,” but also pointed out that plantings will be done around the farmstand.
After more discussion, Smith made a motion to approve the Island Autism Center to move forward in its development with the following conditions: a seven-foot-tall fence for the first 120-foot length (which DeVane said costs about $3,000), and six feet after that, a review after one year to “see where things stand,” and a review after “each stage in construction,” which the board approved.
“Once again, we’d be happy to do that if that makes everybody happy,” DeVane said about installing the higher fencing prior to the vote.