I am co-chairman of the Tisbury planning board and a member of the municipal parking lot committee but this is a submission of my own. Any errors or misstatements are my responsibility.
I would like to support the proposed expansion of the Stop & Shop store on Water street, but there are a few outstanding issues that I think need to be resolved before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission gives its approval. These focus on three broad categories: Plans for the building, plans for the municipal parking lot and traffic, transit and circulation.
Size of Building
Many have advocated for a smaller building, one that would fit more easily into the surrounding context. This is still an unresolved issue, repeated at every public hearing, for which there has been very little give on the part of Stop & Shop.
The primary issue of size, in my view, centers less on the square footage of the floor area (plus or minus 30,000 square feet) and more on the fact that the building is maxed out to the limits of the property in every dimension — width, depth and height — leaving little or no room to modify its shape or provide adequate space for safe pedestrian walkways and amenities such as trees, benches, cart corrals, signage, bike racks and other street furniture.
Relatively small changes to the frontages along Norton and Cromwell, which are now pushed to the limit, could make a big difference. For example, shortening the length of the building by just 10 feet (from 240 to 230 feet) would allow for a 10-foot widening of Cromwell Lane, a significant improvement creating a safer pedestrian way and space for landscaping. This would reduce the parking garage by no more than three cars and the overall square footage of the building by about 1,000 square feet. Since Cromwell Lane is the link to the Island’s shared use path system, this would be an important Islandwide improvement that the MVC should require.
Apart from the unresolved issue of building size, the latest design has been greatly improved. While still bulky, it now looks more like an ensemble of three or four individual structures rather than one continuous mass, and the detailing more closely matches the character of downtown Vineyard Haven. The Water street sidewalk has been widened, providing space for trees, landscaping and displays. A second-floor balcony enlivens the street and provides a view of the harbor.
Still, there is just a two-foot setback along Norton Lane adjacent to the parking lot, leaving little room for a wider sidewalk, foundation plantings or other amenities. The building dimensions — 110 by 240 feet — are closer to the size of a city block than an individual building lot. This is a scale more associated with a supermarket than a grocery store.
When the Island Plan called for the inclusion of a grocery store in a village center, it was a call for a smaller building and one less dependent on automobiles. While we all have cars and use them excessively, Vineyard Haven is a village with many residents living well within walking and biking distance of the Stop & Shop. But existing traffic congestion along Water street, exacerbated by the auto-centered character of the store, tends to drive bikes and pedestrians away. The commission needs to assure that the store provides a safe, pleasant, pedestrian access that encourages shoppers to walk and bike to the store, both for the improvement of the design of the building and as part of a strategy for reducing traffic and parking demand.
Municipal Parking Lot
The Stop & Shop project relies extensively on the adjacent municipal lot. The renovation and redesign of the lot will have a significant bearing on the overall look and functionality of the Stop & Shop itself as well as the visual impact it will have on what is described as the gateway to the Island.
The parking lot committee, formed last October, produced a concept plan and a series of design objectives to guide the renovation of the lot. A fundamental consideration affecting the lot redesign was the recognition that it is, or should be, a major public space in downtown Vineyard Haven accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists in addition to cars, and providing attractive spaces and services for visitors and residents alike. Last month the committee submitted its recommendations to the selectmen and they have accepted them. The plan includes a 10-foot-wide shared use path, expanded bike and pedestrian ways and improvements to the appearance of the Island’s major port of entry. These are all important Islandwide features. The MVC needs to insure that they will be implemented.
Traffic and Congestion
It is understandable that this issue would dominate much of the public discussion. The store is directly across from our ferry terminal and shares Water street as its only exit. Traffic volumes and congestion are already a problem in this area. A larger store is certainly not going to help, but these concerns are not projections about what might happen if the Stop & Shop moves in; they are problems that we have had for decades and have not been addressed.
The planning board has repeatedly called for a more detailed analysis of the movement in and around the downtown area that incorporates all modes of travel – pedestrians, bikes, buses, cars, trucks, taxis, and ferries. Parking policies, design of intersections and roadways, potential use of new technologies, costs and many other issues need to be addressed. This is a complex undertaking that will take time and money and Stop & Shop should contribute to it. I hope it becomes an immediate priority.
Meanwhile, there are specific steps that should be addressed now that would relieve traffic congestion by providing attractive alternatives to cars. These involve bus, shuttle and delivery services.
To make sure VTA bus service operates effectively, there needs to be changes to traffic patterns in the Five Corners area. One scheme the MVC might consider would minimize these impacts by dividing the flow of traffic on Water street into two parts:
• All vehicles exiting the ferry, trucks and cars included, would still be directed toward Five Corners.
• The roughly equal number of other cars in the area — Vineyard Haven shoppers, pick-up and drop-off vehicles and taxis, would have the option to use Union street.
The MVC should look carefully into this and other options for the use of Union street before issuing an approval for this project. There may be other ways to manage traffic flow, but we cannot rely on extra traffic personnel to solve this problem.
A shuttle service could be initiated by the town and supported by Stop & Shop as a supplement to the park and ride bus. There are a number of lots in the surrounding area, both public and private, including the Catholic Church, Hebrew Center, Tisbury School and the senior center, providing a total of approximately 200 spaces that could be included in the shuttle route. These lots could function as a satellite network of parking areas.
Stop & Shop had once proposed including a Pea Pod grocery delivery service, a feature they provide in many of their stores. They should reconsider offering that service or one like it to cut down on car visits.
Each one of these options — bus, bike, pedestrian, shuttle and deliveries — reduces the need for cars. At the end of the day, this is the only long-term strategy that promises to effectively deal with the problem of traffic congestion in this neighborhood.