As the long-running public review of expansion plans for the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop drags on, the stage has shifted to negotiations between the town of Tisbury and the grocery chain over the municipal parking lot they share off Water street.
At a seventh public hearing last week before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Geoghan Coogan, a Tisbury attorney who represents Stop & Shop, said a letter sent by the Tisbury selectmen “out of the blue” had become a possible game changer for the expansion plan.
The letter has not been made public and Mr. Coogan did not disclose details during the hearing. But he said that until matters raised in the letter are resolved with the town, no final commitments can be made to the commission, which is considering a possible mitigation package and conditions for the developer after months of detailed review.
The public hearing has now been continued to April 17.
Reached this week, Tisbury selectman Jeffrey Kristal confirmed that the town had sent Stop & Shop more than one letter following discussions in executive session about the parking lot. Mr. Kristal did not disclose details, but said only that the letters have addressed mitigation, the town parking lot and “every single thing.”
“We’re trying to get close to finalizing the discussion package,” Mr. Kristal said. “We’re extremely close,” he said.
Last week, Tisbury selectmen signed off on a plan to redesign the parking lot with 64 parking spaces and three two-way parking lanes.
Stop & Shop wants to rebuild its Water street store into a two-story 30,000-square-foot grocery store and 42-space parking garage. The commission is reviewing the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). The size of the store and traffic impacts at the location near the main Steamship Authority terminal and the busy Five Corners intersection have been central points of concern. The fate of a historic house on Cromwell Lane that Stop & Shop owns is another concern.
At last Thursday’s meeting Mr. Coogan told the commission that the letter from the town has added a new wrinkle to the discussion, although he could not elaborate.
On Friday, Mr. Coogan told the Gazette: “The only thing I can say further on that issue is that the town and Stop & Shop have made huge progress in the last week on clearing up some issues between the parties. We hope to have an agreement in place by April 1 with the selectmen, which we can then deliver as a part of the final offers to the MVC right after that.”
But on Thursday night the commission said because Stop & Shop and Tisbury have not yet reached agreement over the parking lot and other mitigation issues, the commission could not review those parts of the project.
Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans said without this information, the application was incomplete.
Commission chairman Fred Hancock said many applications change through the course of public hearings. “It’s a very large project with a lot of very big impacts,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, commissioners went around the table to give each member a chance to register remaining concerns. Questions about traffic were a recurring issue.
“I remained very deeply concerned about the impact of this project on traffic,” commissioner Doug Sederholm said.
Commissioners also asked about traffic and staging during the construction phase, affordable housing and the size of the building.
The house at 15 Cromwell Lane that Stop & Shop purchased to make room for the expansion was also a subject for discussion. The Greek Revival house, built for mariner Caleb Prouty, dates back to about 1850. The Massachusetts Historical Commission has said it is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Stop & Shop representatives said they’ve had difficulty finding a place to relocate the house, but their written offers to the commission will include a commitment to relocate the home. If a final site is not found by the time construction starts, they have said they will store the house until a location is found.
Mr. Coogan said construction would take up about a third of the town-owned parking lot next to the store; he said this is another issue that is tied to some kind of agreement between the town and Stop & Shop. He said construction would take place from October through May and store employees would be relocated.
On the subject of traffic impacts, Stop & Shop representative Randy Hart said he thinks most of the store’s traffic will come from pass-bys, or people who are already going by the store and are not making a special trip.
Vineyard Transit Authority administrator Angela Grant said the project could have an adverse impact on bus ridership and adherence to schedules by adding more traffic.
As in past hearings, some audience members spoke against the project and others spoke in favor. At this meeting, three members of the Vineyard boys’ hockey team spoke in favor of Stop & Shop, noting that they support the hockey program.
The commission also went over a six-page list of offers from Stop & Shop, which include encouraging employees to avoid parking in downtown parking spaces, no deliveries between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and getting approval of the final architectural plans from the commission’s land use planning committee.