Tisbury planners have laid out a vision for a portion of the town’s business district, intending to enable a better flow of traffic, increase combined greenspace, and allow mixed-use commercial and residential parcels.
Their work was presented on Tuesday for the “Vision for Commercial Districts” event, which is part of the town’s master plan process. The presentation results from more than a year of community engagement regarding the plan.
Part of the event reviewed proposed changes to the B2 district, which includes much of State Road in Vineyard Haven.
Before detailing the town’s vision, officials and project partners clarified that no idea was set in stone, and that the master plan will continue to gather and incorporate public input.
Ben Robinson, Martha’s Vineyard Commission member and Tisbury planning board chair, stated that the event’s purpose was to communicate Tisbury’s current goals. “[This is] an understanding of the existing conditions, the issues that we face, and then an attempt to illustrate possible ways that we can think about resolving some of those things and improving the situation.”
“These conversations have been conversations we’ve had for years, and we’ll continue to have for years…These are really conversation starters in trying to capture a vision in the moment that we’re in as we develop the master plan,” he added.
Dillon Sussman of Dodson & Flinker, which is contributing landscape architecture and planning for Tisbury, highlighted that the B2 area has issues with traffic circulation. “The main thing to notice about the circulation is that you have this central spine of State Road, and then not much connection between the streets coming off of State Road. So that means that most of the traffic that is accessing business in the B2 district is coming along State Road, and then coming off and going back to State Road. There is no great way to circulate within the district for the most part.”
Sussman also shared the related difficulties of the many relatively wide curb cuts on State Road, for pedestrians and bikers. “From the perspective of somebody walking down the sidewalk, that means that the sidewalk is interrupted over and over and over again.”
Sussman also noted current frustrations for drivers. “You have lots of vehicles turning in and out of each one of these parcels and businesses, which results in probably more traffic delays.”
To solve these issues, Sussman recommended a more unified street network to the north or south of State Road, with fewer curb cuts. Toward this goal, Sussman supported a connector road between State Road and Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. Sussman stated that the idea was rejected at a town meeting voted down a decade ago, but he noted a recent change in opinion. “Through this process, the idea of moving forward with that connecting road has been discussed a lot, and generally it seems like people think it’s a good idea,” he said.
Sussman also said that expanding wastewater treatment in Tisbury, particularly for B2, would be important for accommodating future businesses and housing stock additions.
Regarding the need for more housing opportunities, Sussman recommended allowing mixed-use zoning in most of the B2 district. “Mixed-use in this context means mixing commercial and residential on one parcel…[this] doesn’t mean that every parcel is going to be mixed-use, or that the town is telling property owners that they have to do mixed-use, this is simply saying just allow mixed-use so that if property owners choose to add a residential component to their property, they can do so.”
With this possible change, Sussman stated that State Road could see more top-of-shop apartments, and that other portions of the district could allow moderate-size, multi-family buildings.
Sussman stated that any modifications seen in the presentation are subject to change pending public input. He also stated that zoning changes would accommodate uses of pre-existing structures. “Any zoning changes basically…allow existing uses and structures to continue. So preexisting uses can continue. And rights are not extinguished.”
Sussman also said that eminent domain would only be used out of extreme necessity. “Any diagram that shows changes of a property that we’re going to show…doesn’t mean that the town intends to take land, or force a property owner to do something.”
Peter Flinker, of Dodson & Flinker, then spoke about the possible benefits of consolidating parking and other uses behind buildings in B2. Flinker said that this would result in easier pedestrian use, and less traffic.
Under the district’s current zoning, Flinker stated that most land parcels are nearly built out. “You’re kind of trapped by that,” said Flinker. “You’re controlling growth, but you’re not allowing good growth to happen…And part of that is driveways and separate parking on each lot, which really is an inefficient use of space…There’s a driveway, and a parking lot, sometimes two driveways for each property, and then there is kind of a useless greenspace between one property and the next property, and then the pattern repeats. So what would happen if you combined the greenspaces and combined the parking? Well, then you have more efficient use of both.”
Flinker recommended connecting driveways across lot lines, and sharing parking areas in the rear of buildings. “Instead of everybody having their own driveway, you could share a driveway connecting the rear and have the parking behind the buildings,” said Flinker.
“The next step is to then take the space that you’ve opened up by eliminating some of the driveways, and add onto existing buildings, [and] redevelop landscaping in front of the buildings and to the side of the buildings,” added Flinker. “And what that does is really create a wide pedestrian swath along the road frontage…that is less interrupted by curb cuts.”
Flinker said that under this arrangement, drivers would still be able to park where next to their destinations. “You could still park right next to your building. You just go down the lane and around behind the building to get there.”
According to Flinker, eliminating driveways will also reduce traffic. “[Whatever] percentage of the driveways you eliminate, you’re eliminating those turning moments as well, so hopefully that makes State Road traffic a lot easier,” he added.
Flinker did note that this effort would require voluntary collaboration from property owners. “If somebody wants to just keep things the way they are, that’s fine. But if you had two land owners…if they’re willing to do it, and they see an opportunity to make more efficient use of the space, why not let them do that?”