Tisbury selectmen took center stage this week in Stop & Shop’s bid to enlarge its Vineyard Haven store with the announcement that the grocery chain has agreed to make a large payment to the town to offset the impacts of the proposed expansion.
Stop & Shop has agreed to pay a total of $1.165 million through a combination of one-time and long-term cash donations to the town, according to a draft memorandum released by the selectmen following an executive session Tuesday. The donations are for traffic mitigation, affordable housing and renovation of the town comfort station, among other things.
For its part, the town has agreed to support the expansion plan before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and work cooperatively with Stop & Shop on other issues.
“I’m happy to report that we have reached [an agreement],” selectman and board chairman Jeffrey Kristal said after he and selectman Jon Snyder reconvened the public portion of the selectmen’s meeting. Selectman Tristan Israel was en route back to the Island from vacation and did not attend. Geoghan Coogan, a Tisbury attorney who represents Stop & Shop on the project, thanked the two selectmen.
The memorandum has not yet been signed and is expected to be discussed at another meeting Tuesday.
Mr. Israel told the Gazette Thursday that he was unhappy to see his board take action on the matter in his absence. “I’m disappointed the board chose to deal with this while I was away,” he said. “I will reserve most of my comments for Tuesday.”
The memorandum adds a new twist to the increasingly tangled story of the grocery store expansion plans which are under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). A public hearing that opened before the MVC nine months ago has been continued seven times, with another session now set for May 1. Size and scale of the large building and parking garage envisioned by Stop & Shop, traffic impacts at the notoriously congested Five Corners intersection and the fate of a historic house on Cromwell Lane have all been issues for discussion.
Another issue has involved the town parking lot that abuts the Water street grocery store, but discussion on that topic has migrated from the town to the commission and back to the town. Commission executive director Mark London has said more than once that the parking lot issues are between the town and Stop & Shop and are not in front of the commission.
A town committee, appointed to come up with a new design concept for the parking lot in light of the Stop & Shop expansion, approved a plan last month. Meanwhile, Tisbury leaders and Stop & Shop have been involved in separate talks, both in public and behind closed doors. Then two weeks ago at a hearing before the MVC, Mr. Coogan said Stop & Shop had received a letter from the town that was a potential game changer for the plan. He did not disclose details and the letter has not been made public. But disclosure of the letter caused the commission to postpone its hearing once more, to the April 17 date.
Speaking to the Gazette on Wednesday this week Mr. Coogan and Greg O’Brien, a communications consultant for Stop & Shop, said the draft memorandum is an outgrowth of the letter.
“That [letter] requested a certain mitigation package that was not feasible for Stop & Shop and we negotiated an agreement from there,” Mr. Coogan said. He said the negotiations involved the Tisbury town counsel and town administrator John (Jay) Grande. “I met them once, spoke to them, we probably emailed each other,” Mr. Coogan said. He said he had also spoken to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission attorney, “because this is a three-party agreement.
“It’s part of an overall process and I think most of the public doesn’t understand how the process works,” Mr. Coogan added. “This has another angle to it in that the town is involved. It’s different. It’s still an MVC project but it’s got another player involved — that’s hard for people to understand and get their head around I understand that.”
Mr. O’Brien said the memorandum, once signed, will be incorporated into a final offer from Stop & Shop to the MVC.
“This deal with the town is going to go to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission,” he said.
Stop & Shop needs a vote of approval from the commission in order to go forward with its plan.
The $1.16 million financial commitment agreed to by Stop & Shop in the memorandum goes far beyond the parking lot issue and is broken down into a series of short and long-term cash donations, most of them for affordable housing and traffic mitigation. The payments are a condition for obtaining building and occupancy permits. They include:
• A one-time donation of $100,000 to the Tisbury affordable housing trust, plus $10,000 a year for 10 years to the trust.
• A one-time donation of $150,000 to Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard.
• A $250,000 donation to the town for deposit into a fund to be established by the town for “so-called downtown traffic mitigation issues.”
• $40,000 a year for 10 years to the town for beautification ($10,000), and traffic mitigation ($30,000).
In addition to the $1.165 million, Stop & Shop also has agreed to:
• Save and arrange for moving the historic house on Cromwell Lane;
• Pay $165,000 for the renovation and upgrade of the town comfort station;
• Assume responsibility for general maintenance in the town parking lot that abuts the store;
• Prepare a detailed construction management plan that addresses every phase of construction.
The town has agreed to:
• Support the project before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission;
• Keep Norton Lane open to traffic;
• Allow Stop & Shop to build a sidewalk along Water street near the front of the store;
• Allow Stop & Shop to use part of the parking lot for staging during construction, and to work cooperatively on landscape and design issues.
Mr. Coogan said he plans to ask on April 17 for another extension of the MVC hearing, but only because two commissioners have said they are unable to be present.
And he emphasized that Stop & Shop did not ask for the town’s written commitment to support the expansion plan. “That part of the memorandum I didn’t ask for, I can tell you that,” Mr. Coogan said. “We did not ask for that as a condition to the agreement. It’s not to say we haven’t been looking for their support for months. When town counsel sent the draft over, it was in there.”
Ivy Ashe contributed reporting.