At their Thursday evening meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted to approve a significant modification to the North Bluff Seawall Project that will feature a new roundabout at the intersection of Sea View Avenue and Circuit Avenue Extension in Oak Bluffs.
The project, brought to the commission by the town of Oak Bluffs in collaboration with Waterfield Design Group — the same company responsible for the design of the Oak Bluffs Circuit Ave. streetscape — aims to drastically improve traffic circulation and enhance the attractiveness of the area.
In addition to a landscaped roundabout, the revamping of the North Bluff will include a reconfiguration of parking spaces, and a more concise queuing area for Island Queen and HyLine passengers, complete with a concrete plaza and landscaped granite sitting walls that will double as stormwater planters.
The project had come 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 new plans via a harborside walk.
The roundabout itself aims to alleviate “slow and disorganized [traffic] circulation,” the proposal states, in addition to addressing pedestrian safety concerns by adding crosswalks, of which the current site has none.
After deliberating on the project’s key issues, mainly traffic and transportation and scenic views, commissioners decided that the benefits far outweigh the detriments, ultimately approving the modification in a 13-1 vote.
After being met with some resistance in previous meetings by commissioners on the number of parking spaces that had been cut for the project, applicant Tim Wong of Waterfield Design Group offered to modify the proposed parking arrangements, resulting in only one less parking space than there is currently.
Additionally, minor changes were made to the plan’s taxi staging area to include both commercial/certified cabs and rideshare vehicles, in addition to relocating the tour bus staging area to enhance scenic views.
Commissioner Trip Barnes argued that the amount of parking that will be available is still not sufficient. He said the sitting areas by the passenger ferries seem to be a misuse of space, as it takes away from potential parking.
The sitting areas near “wayfinding” marks, he said, “that’s going to become a big ashtray and wastebasket.”
“The rotary is a good thing,” Barnes agreed, but said the rest of the project raises concerns: “We shouldn’t be giving up parking spaces.”
Commissioner Ernie Thomas agreed, and although he acknowledged the area is in need of work, said he is “totally at a loss as to why [the project] is an improvement … It feels like somebody designed this who hasn’t been there in the height of the season, and tried to pick someone up from a boat.”
Thomas, who works as a rideshare driver, said, “I don’t think this is going to work.”
Commissioner Doug Sederholm clarified that the current version of the plan only reduces parking spaces from 65 to 64. “It is now a complete and utter mess down there in the summer,” he said; the project will help “to create some order to it.”
“It does make sense to me, what their plan is,” Sederholm said, “The town seems comfortable with it, the town is proposing it, the town went out and got grant money to do it, let’s give them a chance. I think it’s a good plan.”
Commissioner Fred Hancock said the project is generally “a great benefit” to the area. “Currently, what you have is a big, ugly parking lot in between ferries,” he said, “It is not an attractive area.”
Commission vice chair Jim Vercruysse agreed, and said the project is indeed an improvement, as it “makes some order out of the chaos that is down there now.”
Commissioner Kathy Newman noted that the completed portions of the Oak Bluffs Streetscape project have “come out beautifully.”
“It’s not going to be a magical solution, but if it could improve a bit, that would be great,” she said.
“It seems like a huge improvement,” commissioner Brian Smith said, “I can’t see any reason to deny it.”
Commissioners subsequently approved the project in a 13-1 vote, with Thomas as the only dissenter.
After the vote, chair Joan Malkin offered her opinion: “I think it’s a great project,” she said. “I really look forward to it … I think it will make a wonderful gateway for Oak Bluffs, which is suffering in that regard at the moment.”
“I’m very happy that we were able to have some role in helping this become as great as I think it promises to be,” she said.