updated Nov. 8
During a 3½-hour meeting Thursday evening, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission took up the proposed North Bluff project in Oak Bluffs, which is set to feature a roundabout and significant renovations to the area located at the intersection of Sea View Avenue and Circuit Avenue Extension.
The proposal comes to the commission as a modification to the North Bluff Seawall project, which was approved by the MVC and completed in 2016, and consisted of the installment of a 720-foot-long corrugated steel seawall and boardwalk from Oak Bluffs Harbor to the public fishing pier. The seawall project served as a component of Oak Bluffs’ streetscape master plan, and will connect to the proposed plans via a “harborside walk.”
The project is a collaboration between the town of Oak Bluffs and Waterfield Design Group — the same company responsible for the design of the Oak Bluffs Circuit Ave. streetscape. It calls for a landscaped roundabout to improve traffic flow, and reconfiguration of the area’s parking format to better accommodate pedestrians and ferry passengers. Per the application, the project hopes to “enhance the experience” of people who use the area.
The project also aims to create a more concise queuing area for passengers traveling on the Island Queen and Hy-Line fast ferry, with benches on a concrete “plaza,” and granite “sitting walls” surrounding new landscaping. The landscaping will double as stormwater planters, and will be located on the harborside of the proposed roundabout.
In response to numerous concerns voiced at the project’s previous public hearing regarding insufficient parking spaces, applicant Tim Wong of Waterfield Design Group has offered to move the tour bus parking area to the west of the roundabout, allowing for the continuation of two-hour parking on Sea View Avenue Extension.
Additionally, the project was modified to add additional 15-minute parking spots by making small changes to the proposed landscaping.
Via a presentation by DRI coordinator Alex Elvin, Wong also addressed the issue of the taxi staging area serving only commercial taxis by switching it to a mixed-use area that also encompasses rideshare vehicles.
WIth a resolution to the parking issues, the hearing subsequently invited little opposition to the project as a whole. The public hearing was subsequently closed, with the written record to remain open until Nov. 10.
Also on Thursday, the commission held its fourth public hearing session on the proposed expansion of Safe Harbor marina in Tisbury.
The project consists of the removal of four structures at the 100 Lagoon Pond location, and relocation of a fuel tank, wash shed, and boat racks, in addition to two new boat racks and construction of a boardwalk along the bulkhead.
A handful of opponents to the project reiterated earlier sentiments, emphasizing concerns about boat traffic, safety, and the impact the expansion would have on the environment; specifically, the pond.
Chris Scott, applicant on behalf of SHM Vineyard Haven LLC, attempted to quell concerns with a thorough and lengthy explanation of the project. “I am concerned with how this Island takes shape,” he said, as “a generational Islander, with roots going back to the early 1700s.” Scott said he understands the environmental concerns, and noted that the company will be “operating in ways to sustain the environment.”
Scott addressed a number of issues raised over the past few hearings, including the environmental effects of bottom paint, use of copper, and waste management.
Scott said over the past 18 months, Safe Harbor has made significant changes to its standard operating procedures, which heavily involve protecting the waterfront.
All mechanical work has been moved away from the waterfront, Scott said; all bottom paint — projected to be 100 percent copper-free in the next year — is done inside the workshop, and the marina will make use of vacuum sanders to prevent dust from entering the water.
Additionally, Scott said, with increasing the number of trash barrels on the site, and through the company’s recycling and waste collection system, there will be no waste discharge into the pond.
Ultimately, Scott said, the categorization of the project as an expansion should be “reworded” as a “site improvement plan.”
Some of the older buildings on the property — all within the floodplain — “need a lot of work,” Scott said. “The footprint here is outdated. It doesn’t fit what we’re doing to date.”
“Honestly, the site felt like a boatyard,” Scott said, “and we didn’t want that. We want it to feel like a marina.”
With a voluminous waiting list for mooring customers, the goal, Scott said, is to meet the demand for a growing customer base by revamping the aesthetics while falling into line with current efforts regarding climate and flood resiliency.
Commissioner Ben Robinson commented on the proposed bike path easement, and noted that the bike path goes through a wetland. “It would be nice to understand how Safe Harbor will help shepherd that through the permitting process,” he said, “so that we can realize that as an asset to the town.” He suggested that Scott consider it before the commission’s deliberation, since the easement lies entirely within the Safe Harbor property lines.
Commission hearing officer Doug Sederholm closed the public hearing, with the written record remaining open for two weeks.
The commission took up a third public hearing session for a proposed community and educational center, Stillpoint Meadows in West Tisbury. The project involves the repurposing of an existing 3,200-square-foot barn on a subdivided 5.7-acre lot, owned by nonprofit Stillpoint Martha’s Vineyard Inc., adjacent to Polly Hill Arboretum.
According to applicant Thomas Bena, the space will serve as “a quiet gathering space for Stillpoint, as well as other year-round Island-based community groups or individuals that could rent the space for their own purposes,” and would include art groups, workshops, retreats, and various “mindfulness activities.”
In previous hearings, commissioners expressed confusion about the project — specifically, how the barn will be used — and encouraged Bena to be more precise as to what types of events will be accommodated.
On Thursday, updated information on the project was discussed, such as annual limits for large weddings (no more than four), and the agreement to prohibit outside amplified music.
The commission was presented with event policies for both the Agricultural Hall and Grange Hall, implying that Stillpoint’s meeting space is slated to be a similar kind of venue.
Sederholm inquired about how any amplified music at the site is consistent with the organization’s mission statement. “Given that your two direct abutters are Polly Hill Arboretum and the Land Bank, both of which are, among other things, dedicated to quiet enjoyment of nature,” he said, “how [does] allowing any amplified music on [the] property — which would clearly impact abutters — align with Stillpoint’s core values of being ‘quiet in nature,’ as stated in [the] presentation dated August 4?”
Bena said there are no plans for amplified sound as of now, but the organization “didn’t want to limit ourselves on day one for a future that might entail some music.”
Stillpoint will be a quiet space, Bena said, “and you can have, as we all know, some quiet amplified music.” He said to be mindful of neighbors, the space will restrict amplified sound an hour earlier than mandated by the town.
“By saying no outdoor amplified music at large outdoor weddings, we thought that would hopefully cause some relief to the abutters,” Bena added, “but you’re right, it’s not in our mission to have loud parties and weddings, but we do want to keep some options on the table for renting the venue to help fund it.”
Sederholm said that four weddings a year, with 80-100 attending each, will undoubtedly create noise issues, and even with indoor amplified music, “I would be surprised if that could not be heard on the Land Bank [or] Polly Hill properties.”
Additionally, Sederholm noted that with the current offers, the organization would be able to host an “unlimited number of weddings with amplified music,” per year, as long as there are fewer than 80 in attendance.
Bena said he “wouldn’t want to produce something that would ruffle the neighbors’ feathers,” and that the goal is to just have the option to host events with amplification.
The commission heard testimony from a number of supporters of the project, including Jennifer Randolph, executive director of nonprofit Northeast Native Network of Kinship and Healing, who called the project a “tremendous gift to the Island community overall.”
She said she “can’t imagine a better space … to be a place to come together and build relationships.”
Closest abutters to the site Anna Fitch and Banker White expressed their support for Bena and the project, noting that Bena’s project encompasses the key reasons they moved their family to the Island: for “the strength of the community and community bonds.”
Ecologist David Foster noted the importance of conserving the land of the area, particularly the Mill Brook watershed, which he said Bena played a large role in helping to do.
“We especially support the vision for a quiet, nature-based and supportive set of activities to unfold at Stillpoint,” Foster said. “On the other hand, we are very concerned about the open-ended, unquantified range of activities that might occur, and seem to be only constrained by Thomas’ assurance.”
He said much of the nearby area, including portions of both the Land Bank and Polly Hill properties, are already open to the public, and are “available for all the kinds of contemplative, nature-based, and quiet activities that people have envisioned.”
Additionally, Foster said, he is concerned about the scope of the plans for the property, as future phases have been mentioned with little detail. “We recognize the need for flexibility,” he said, “we [also] recognize the need for constraint.” He asked the commission to consider that fact in their deliberations.
Echoing similar statements from previous discussion on the project, Sederholm emphasized the need to “clearly define the scope of what the activities are in the future, to make sure the commission imposes conditions such that the land will be respected in the use of activities.” He said it is the charge of the MVC to review accurate plans that are truly reflective of what the project will be: “That’s our job, and shame on us if we don’t do it,” he said.
Awaiting further information regarding the nitrogen mitigation plans for the project, due to the absence of a representative at the meeting, the commission decided to continue the public hearing to Nov. 17.
In other business, commission chair Joan Malkin briefly noted that the MVC’s finance committee — consisting of appointed representatives from each town, and the county — will be convening in the near future to discuss the budget in order to make recommendations to the full commission.
Corrected to convey accurate ownership of the Stillpoint property.