Questions of size and character dominated discussion at a Martha’s Vineyard Commission public hearing Thursday night, the third such session the commission has held on plans to renovate and expand the Stop & Shop Vineyard Haven store.
Stop & Shop proposes to consolidate three buildings, including its existing store, into a two-story building with a grocery store on the second floor and a parking garage on the first floor. The store is located at what some call the “gateway to the Island,” across from the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority terminal and near the busy Five Corners intersection.
Expansion plans were first presented to the public this spring. At the continued commission public hearing Thursday, store representatives outlined modifications to that plan, including increasing the distance of the store from Water street and making way for a wider sidewalk and trees.
Changes to traffic plans in the heavily-congested area also have been introduced. Stop & Shop originally proposed a reorganization of the town parking lot next to the building, eliminating Norton Lane as a through street and having traffic exit at the far side of the parking lot. The proposal also called for getting rid of town restrooms on the parking lot.
Those plans are no longer part of the application, according to Stop & Shop. Instead, Stop & Shop plans to keep the town restrooms, and add additional â¨restrooms for customers accessible from outside the store, to the side of the store closest to Main street.
“We’ve done a ton of work,” said attorney Geoghan Coogan, who represents the company.
Parking changes were not discussed by the commission at the hearing, however, as the grocery chain said it has decided to work with the town and not the commission in regard to the municipal parking lot.
“What we’re proposing right now is that the parking lot remains as it is; that’s how we have to approach this right now,” said Mr. Coogan.
The plan to address the parking lot with the town raised some concern Thursday night, and led to a debate about how to address conflicting town and regional interests.
“I’m a little confused about how the MVC can evaluate this application without knowing what the town lot’s going to be,” commissioner Doug Sederholm said, adding that it seemed Stop & Shop didn’t have any other options but to work out the issue with the town.
“It’s a Tisbury lot; we need to have our own sensibilities hashed out first and then the Island, state, country can react to it,” said Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel.
Commissioner Linda Sibley pointed out that the commission needs to know plans for the parking lot to decide how it will impact the area. Executive director Mark London said there are other regional planning issues at stake, like connecting bike paths.
Over the course of the nearly three-hour meeting, commissioners pressed for answers about loading deliveries and outstanding application specifics, such as job creation and housing needs.
According to a presentation of the site plan, trucks would make deliveries in a loading dock in the back of the store. Stop & Shop representatives said that some parking spots would need to be blocked off when trucks back into the loading dock, and deliveries are often made early in the morning. Employees could monitor each truck as it leaves to ensure safety, the store said.
Mrs. Sibley asked for more information about affordable housing and employment. Stop & Shop has said the new store will create about 50 jobs, and that it provides 10 year-round rentals for employees and would increase that number based on the number of new employees.
“I really want some information to make me believe the 50 new jobs are not actually causing a burden on the public to produce housing subsidies to keep them alive,” Ms. Sibley said.
Others questioned the application itself. “Before we start killing each other... have you guys looked at another site?” commissioner Lenny Jason Jr. said.
“There isn’t another site,” Mr. Coogan said. He noted that the commission’s Island Plan said a downtown grocery store is vital, and moving the store is “defeating the purpose of your own Island Plan.”
“We began this process on April 1,” commissioner Camille Rose said. “I think I’m hearing some of the questions we had to begin with . . . I don’t feel that this project was complete enough in its presentation to us and I think we’ve wasted an awful lot of time.”
Mr. Sederholm said Stop & Shop needs to look at their economic bottom line when it comes to size, while the commission has to work out what size works for the Island. “And the elephant in the room that we haven’t talked about, which is the god-awful traffic issue,” he said.
Several members of the public spoke in support of the project. Greg O’Brien, a consultant for Stop & Shop, said 3,000 people have signed letters of the support for the project, noting that represents 97 per cent of the store’s shoppers.
About a dozen people, including store employees, stood up at the meeting to support the idea as well. Others noted that the store provides jobs for Islanders.
“We unquestionably acknowledge the need for a new store,” Tisbury historic commission chairman Harold Chapdelaine said, saying that the historic district commission wants the project to move forward. “It’s time for us all to acknowledge and recognize . . . the building is just clearly too big for its proposed location.”
He said the commission voted to recommend the MVC deny the application as submitted based on the size in proportion to surrounding buildings, and asked for a 35 per cent reduction to the store size.
“I refuse to have the mere improvement of the store divorced from how the store fits the community,” planning board member Tony Peak said. He said designs that the store uses elsewhere in the country may not work in Tisbury.
The commission scheduled a land use planning committee meeting for October 21, and continued the public hearing to Nov. 7.
“I think it needs to be known and restated, we expected this process to take a while” Mr. Coogan said. He said that while the location is the most unique spot on Martha’s Vineyard, the store is not a megastore. Without the parking garage, he said, “it’s smaller than Cronig’s.”
“We do want to continue to work with you and evolve . . . there will be a breaking point, probably, where we can’t get any smaller. That’s part of the process, we’re not here to just say this is what we’ve got. We feel we have made some significant improvements from the first day we came and we are continuing to work on it.”