The Vineyard Montessori School’s expansion plans in Tisbury faced resistance from neighbors during their first public airing.
On Thursday, Feb. 1, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) held a hearing regarding the school’s plans to construct a third building with a 2,915-square-feet footprint. This would allow the school to increase the number of people at its main campus on 286 Main St. by 29 students and five staff members, according to a MVC staff report. It would also allow the school to end its lease on a satellite campus at 15A Church St. by 2025, saving the school $3,100 a month.
Numerous people sent letters regarding the project, with supporters outnumbering letters of opposition or concern by nearly triple. Supporters voiced the need for childcare access and education for working parents.
Meanwhile, the concerns raised about the proposed project included light, increased noise, traffic concerns, and a lack of communication from the applicants.
Ross Seavey, the attorney representing the school, sent a letter to commissioners in response, to try to assuage neighbors’ concerns. Seavey said plans had also been slightly adjusted based on feedback received during the meeting with the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee.
Regarding some abutters’ concern about a lack of transparency, Seavey said the school went “above and beyond” in notifying abutters.
“In my opinion, both as a land use attorney but also as a Tisbury building inspector for quite a few years, people always want more notice, and would like to know more on what’s going on on their neighbors’ properties,” Seavey said, adding that since the school was pursuing the project under Tisbury bylaws, there weren’t requirements for the organization to actively notify abutters.
Seavey also emphasized that the school’s goals of providing a safe environment align with abutters, since their students also walk the neighborhood streets.
Abutters opposed to the construction were in attendance at Thursday’s hearing.
Abutter Jayne Stanek, who had been a part of the Montessori School before, voiced concerns about the impact the project would have on her property, and that the preparations had more of an impact than the applicants suggested. She noted the number of trees cleared. Stanek said she is pro-education, and recognizes the needs the school meets for Island families. “We don’t deny any of this,” she said. “But the obligation to ensure responsible growth on the Island is just as important.”
Stanek underscored that she was not a case of NIMBYism (not in my backyard), and she was concerned the expansion will add additional pressures to an area she said is already overburdened. She did say that the development would have a detrimental impact to the neighborhood and her property.
Abutter Susan Dunbar, who sent four letters to the commission, said there were several considerations the neighbors would like commissioners to review before making a final decision, such as the long line of idling cars on Tashmoo Avenue of parents waiting to pick up children, noise abatement, and the potential reforestation of trees.
Dunbar also said the school was not completely forthcoming about its expansion, claiming that a previous iteration showed a smaller building, compared with what was proposed.
“Those buildings stick out like sore thumbs in the neighborhood,” she said.
Dunbar said that she wasn’t against the school’s mission. “My daughter went to this Montessori School when it was tiny, and … it was great,” Dunbar said. “I do believe in what they’re offering, but it’s just so gargantuan, and it’s hard to wrap your head around.”
Some abutters also said the traffic was worse than what was presented during the hearing.
Seavey pushed back on the idea that the school had been dishonest, and said the area was not overburdened. He also said the MVC staff would have likely notified the applicants if a policy was violated.
“I think some of these concerns are not borne out by our plans, or the facts really here,” he said.
Seavey also said they can work out additional ways to address neighbors’ concerns, like a no-idling sign.
Commissioners voiced their own concerns — mitigation efforts on light pollution, septic connections, the trees cleared for the construction preparation, among others — but they also wanted additional information, such as a preliminary landscaping plan.
After further discussion and consideration, the commission decided to conduct a site visit on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 12:30 pm. Additionally, the record will be left open until Feb. 15 at 5 pm for further submissions. A vote was not taken by the commissioners.