Stop & Shop, in accordance with its international parent company Ahold’s corporate model for dominating any marketplace it enters, has instructed its team of developers, engineers, architects, and lawyers to shoehorn in the largest shopping center they can fit, and, for a first on Martha’s Vineyard, a parking garage, both right in the center of busy downtown Vineyard Haven, the heart of the town of Tisbury and the main port area for the entire Island. This would set the new standard for corporate development on the Vineyard. It would also set a precedent for both the scale and nature of buildings to come.
What has remained over several centuries a quaint New England seaside village, comprising small buildings stepping gently downhill to a harbor of similarly small boats bobbing in the breeze—a scale and setting different from the mainland you depart on the ferry, which you immediately sense as you arrive—would now be dominated by a large steel box store over 200 feet long and 40 feet high, masked by fake architectural details that poorly imitate the unique character of the Vineyard the box displaces. Sadly, underneath this thinly veiled façade there would just be a continuation of the corporate consumerism we are seeing engulf and destroy the country and the planet—something, luckily for us, that the Vineyard’s thoughtful, concerned citizenry has, in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, courageously fought in the past.
Stop & Shop’s expansion proposal has been poorly executed, poorly designed, and, up to now, poorly reviewed. For over a year, the corporation has not in any real way adjusted its initial proposal to address the many concerns voiced at every possible public hearing by the citizens of Martha's Vineyard or the residents of Tisbury. We have given Stop & Shop ample time to adjust its corporate model to fit our island. It hasn't, and doesn't seem to care to. Is this a multinational corporation with which we feel comfortable forming a long-term partnership?
In order for Stop & Shop to "max out" its property—in the development team’s own words—it needs to bulldoze multiple building lots, build over valuable open space, encumber town land, and remove an historic home, forever altering the unique feel of downtown Vineyard Haven.
The current proposal is a tremendous increase from what now exists in an area that already has too much traffic for the current infrastructure to support. It would certainly worsen a problematic traffic situation. And to truly alleviate that, the town would need to improve much of the surrounding roads, sidewalks, and so on, just to keep up with the subsequent growth—a costly endeavor, in the least. These costs, as currently proposed in the mitigation package, would weigh almost entirely on the public.
Just to be clear about the size of this proposal:
Existing Vineyard Grocery Stores
Current Tisbury Stop & Shop (including old Midnight Farm).…19,000 SQ FT & no parking spaces
Tisbury Cronig’s Market………….…………………………….19,000 SQ FT & ~100 parking spaces
Edgartown Stop & Shop.......................................................25,000 SQ FT & ~120 parking spaces
Stop & Shop’s Proposed Supermarket
Proposed building including parking garage (2 stories)…..49,000 SQ FT & ~ 40 parking spaces
Even the traffic study offered by Stop & Shop, having been heavily skewed in its favor by its engineers, still shows an increase in traffic. The traffic engineers have both cherry-picked the numbers and made blatant assumptive errors to help the impact of their development seem less. Among the false assumptions:
1. They continue to assume that the vast majority of the traffic to and from the store does not actually pass through Five Corners, but arrives via Main Street, purposely downplaying the impact on Five Corners.
2. They assume that most of the people shopping are actually just driving by, and then at that moment decide to stop for groceries. This assumption serves to further decrease the number of trips to the store the engineers need to count in their studies.
3. They overestimate the traffic that had been generated by the old Golden Dragon Restaurant, to decrease the increase in traffic by falsely inflating the current condition.
These examples show how Stop & Shop’s traffic engineers are willing to manipulate the perceived impact of the proposal. Meanwhile, their traffic studies have been repeatedly deemed questionable by independent peer review, which has concluded that there are no benefits to the town or public with the addition of Stop & Shop’s proposed building in downtown Vineyard Haven.
The Stop & Shop developers continue to contradict themselves when discussing the store's use. They say that it's a unique store location that gets a lot of walk-in shopping which doesn't affect traffic. Then they maintain that they cannot build the European model grocery store based on this same unique walk-in shopping usage, because their shoppers drive to the store, park, and stock up. They again use this same contradictory argument when they say they won't need the industry standard of 120 parking spaces for a store of this size—yet insist they need to build the American model, which is heavily dependent on large parking areas.
Further, because their proposal maximizes the building size on four combined lots, they would need to permanently encumber town land in order to make their plan work, clogging it up with Stop & Shop delivery trucks, access to the store's trash dumpster, cars entering and exiting the parking garage, as well as multiple pedestrian entry points, all of which require crossing the town's land to access the store.
There would be no store entrances along Stop & Shop’s only lawful frontage, on Water Street, as that would stress the traffic situation, but instead of using its own property to provide space for the store’s access, Stop & Shop and its developers would rather just continue using the abutting town property. This approach solidifies the sense that the municipal parking lot belongs to Stop & Shop—as much of the public already falsely assumes.
The Stop & Shop developers also plan to use this same town land to stage their construction, seemingly without having to pay any sort of lease or rent to the town for the use of it, during which the public—who owns the land—would not have use of it. More insulting yet, in the most recent agreement with the town, Stop & Shop offered to chip in only a paltry $165,000 to rebuild the area after it has been damaged during the construction process, with most of that sum going to rehabilitate the town-owned comfort station. This is certainly not enough compensation, by any stretch, for either of these concerns. The remaining costs will fall on the shoulders of the town’s taxpayers. This is a clear abdication of duties by Tisbury’s selectmen, who have negotiated such a favorable deal for Stop & Shop without once asking the townspeople for their input at a town meeting.
As the town land abutting Stop & Shop is a valuable resource for the town and the Island as a whole, it is critically important that it remain fully independent of any private properties surrounding it, so that it will remain free to be used by or to be changed by the public, for the public.
Any development in a small, mature Island town, and in such a prominent location, with proximity to important town land, the Five Corners intersection, Main Street, the VTA bus stops, and the Steamship Authority terminal and ferry slips, must be both very carefully considered and very well designed.
Neither requirement has yet been met.
We need answers to the question of what would constitute an appropriately sized in-town grocery store.
These are our five simple suggestions:
1. A store that does not overburden the very limited public parking and does not encumber town land.
2. A store that does not increase vehicular traffic.
3. A store that represents the true historic and independent character and scale of the Island.
4. A store that improves the pedestrian experience around it.
5. A store that strengthens relationships with local farmers and food producers.
Instead, we have been given two choices: either Stop & Shop will "max out" its development, as proposed, or it will do nothing at all. This bullying stance—“my way or else"—is all too evident across the globe, when large corporate entities push their profit-driven agenda at the expense of the public they claim to serve.
Stop & Shop’s expansion proposal in no way improves the traffic flow, the pedestrian experience, or the architectural quality of the port of Vineyard Haven, the town of Tisbury, or the Island as a whole. The offered mitigation has no concrete solutions to the increased traffic and parking problems that the expansion would certainly cause.
Weighing the benefits and detriments of this proposal, it is painfully clear that all detriments are to the public, and the benefits are solely for the Ahold Corporation.
Until Stop & Shop submits a proposal that truly and fairly addresses the scale, character, and context of its present Vineyard Haven location, we are far better off with a plan based on what currently exists.
We strongly urge the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to deny Stop & Shop’s expansion proposal, which is the very type of development from which, 40 years ago, the MVC was created to protect the Island.
Ben Robinson and Lilian Robinson