Updated Nov. 16
Unhappy Tisbury business owners gave Tisbury’s select board an earful on Wednesday about sidewalk work that has torn apart areas of the Main Street retail district. The business owners claimed they were given insufficient notice or no notice, and in two cases owners alleged town contractors had encroached or trespassed on private property.
Tisbury DPW director Kirk Metell said designs for Main Street improvement work and funding for that work were approved in 2018. He said contractor Lawrence Lynch was working with those previously approved designs. Town administrator Jay Grande confirmed authorization for the improvements dated from 2018, and added that they required town meeting votes and “votes of various boards and committees.”
Grande said the work was meant to remove barriers and “improve the pedestrian experience.”
Metell gave a short update on the work to date. “The following has been completed as of today,” he said; “sight surveying has been done, test pits have been bored, drainage structures have been fully inspected, silt liners have been installed, road cuts have been completed, and material is on order — that includes curbing, gutter inlets, benches, garbage receptacles, planters, and bricks.”
He added, “They have also started to prep sidewalks to receive the new ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant platforms at every major crossing.”
Metell went on to say, “Many of you may be asking yourself why we are altering the current sidewalks. The answer is pretty straightforward. The town is mandated to provide safe pedestrian crossing … Our current ramps and curbing do not achieve this goal.”
Metell said plans and schedules for the work were available on the town webpage.
Benjamin Hall, whose family trust owns properties on Main Street, said seven property owners he spoke with didn’t know the work was coming, and therefore didn’t get to comment on the plans. Hall described the plans as not “a good idea,” nor “a wise expenditure of the public money.”
The work, which has gouged out several sidewalk areas, Hall described as “just a complete slap in the face to the property owners.” He also said the work stands to adversely impact business owners ahead of the holiday shopping season.
Those business owners received a “very vague letter” weeks ago, and plans that allegedly couldn’t be read without a magnifying glass, Hall said. He said the work had blocked or taken away parking spaces.
His most serious allegation was that the work, in some places, constituted “trespassing” or “encroachment.”
Select board chair Roy Cutrer tried to rein in Hall more than once, and move the hearing along. However, Hall was pretty fired up, and kept talking.
Elaine Barse, owner of the Green Room and vice president of the Vineyard Haven Business Association, said that following a recent meeting of the association, it was agreed business owners wanted to see more communication regarding the project.
She said business owners have to know what to expect, and reiterated what Hall said, that the holidays were approaching and holiday events were planned.
Barse said she didn’t want the construction to take away from the “fun” atmosphere Tisbury creates for the holidays. “This is thousands of dollars they are losing in revenue,” she said.
Barse added, Tisbury must keep the communication flow active, “otherwise we’re going to get pretty resentful.”
Elizabeth (“Ty”) Sinnett, proprietor of Seven Sisters, said the end of the week and the weekends were critical mercantile days, and parking needs to be available.
Sinnett said movers and contractors were unable to work at her business in preparation for the holidays because, she said, she didn’t receive notice about the construction start.
She also said construction crept onto family property, and that she expected better preparations to protect windows, doors, and fragile merchandise like “fine china” from being affected by jackhammering.
“Elizabeth and Elaine, I totally understand and I totally hear you,” Metell said. “I spoke to the contractor today. The curbing is on order, the curbing will not be arriving to the Island until January. They [are] not planning on doing a whole lot of construction work at all through the whole month of December.” Metell said the downtown area will remain open, and Christmas trees and other decorations will still be placed throughout the area. He expects the construction to resume after the New Year. Similar to what Oak Bluffs did with its downtown project, Metell expects to hold weekly meetings onsite, where any person can pose questions.
At the meeting, Metell said the concrete would be poured in front of Seven Sisters and indeed that’s happened. He added that pouring would occur on that side of the street and should be walkable in about a day.
On Tuesday, that pour was hardened and walkable. Metell met with Sinnett in front of her business. Sinnett appeared satisfied with the work. Both Metell and a Lawrence Lynch representative said treatment of the concrete to achieve a pebbly look differed from what was done to concrete on the Beach Road project. A chemical used on sidewalks in that project came with warning it was potentially hazardous to aquatic life and should not seep into waterways. As The Times previously reported, despite the warning, plenty of the chemical appeared to wash into storm drains. Metell described what has been used on the Main Street sidewalks thus far as a different, nontoxic “etching agent.” The Lawrence Lynch representative called that agent “sugar-based”.
At the meeting, Grande said he was “very concerned” about issues of encroachment. “I don’t think that can be overlooked,” he said, calling it “a serious matter.” He said he planned to consult with field engineers and assess the allegation.
The board took no votes on the matter, and concluded somewhat abruptly in order to address another hearing.
Updated with additional sidewalk information.