Stop & Shop withdrew plans Thursday to expand its Water street store in Vineyard Haven, abruptly ending a 10-month Martha’s Vineyard Commission review of the project that was closely followed and debated.
Attorney Geoghan Coogan, who has represented Stop & Shop during the review process, emailed a letter to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday morning “respectfully requesting the MVC allow Stop & Shop to withdraw the present application.”
“It is our sincere hope to move forward with a project in the future,” Mr. Coogan said in the email.
An attached statement from Mr. Coogan and Stop & Shop New England president Joe Kelly elaborated on the reasons.
“Stop & Shop has decided to request a withdrawal of the current proposal from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to digest all of the comments, questions and concerns related to the project. Stop & Shop is a vested partner of this community, and will remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the town of Tisbury,” the statement said. “We want to thank our loyal customers and many supporters, and recognize this decision may disappoint those who want and deserve a far better store.”
Greg O’Brien, a Cape Cod communications consultant who has been a spokesman for Stop & Shop, said Thursday morning that there would be no immediate further comment on the matter.
“We feel the statement speaks for itself,” Mr. O’Brien said.
The commission concluded its public review of the project as a development of regional impact (DRI) last Thursday with an eighth and final public hearing at the Tisbury senior center that drew a large crowd. The hearing began in July 2013.
The grocery chain wanted to rebuild its Water street store into a much larger, more modern store that would occupy the block which now includes the grocery store, a former Chinese restaurant and the former Midnight Farm store building. The plan called for elevating the new building in order to meet flood plain requirements and also for building a large new parking garage on the site, which sits opposite the main Steamship Authority terminal and a stone’s throw from the congested Five Corners intersection.
The plan has been the subject of heated contention and much confusion over both the details and the process, especially in recent months. An agreement that called for Stop & Shop to pay the town of Tisbury $1.16 million in mitigation money was drafted but never signed. Public sentiment was running high, and a recent surge of opposition to the expansion plan had critics calling it too big and out of scale with downtown Vineyard Haven. An online petition was started three weeks ago urging the commission to turn the plan down. A number of town leaders, including a majority of the planning board and selectmen, opposed the plan and had asked that it be redrawn on a smaller scale. The Vineyard Transit Authority and Steamship Authority expressed strong concerns about impacts on traffic congestion. The commission was expected to begin deliberations next week with a possible vote in early June.
Then about six hours before the close of the written record on the project Thursday, Stop & Shop withdrew the plan.
Commission chairman Fred Hancock said he was surprised by the decision. “It seemed that after this long of a time they probably would have been just as well to go through the rest of the process,” he said. He said he did not know why the project was withdrawn.
Mr. Hancock said the review process highlighted the commission’s role as a unique regional planning agency. “I think the biggest takeaway, from my point of view, is just to remind people that without the commission this project could have been built as of right,” he said. “There would have been no public hearing, they wouldn’t have needed any permissions from any of the boards, just a building permit. To me that’s pretty big.”
He added: “It does start a discussion on the Island about what do we want the future of that area to be."
Mr. Hancock started Thursday night's commission meeting by discussing the development. "I would like to thank the commissioners who spent so much time on that," he said. "The same 14 commissioners worked on the project the whole time, I know it meant some hardship to some who had to rearrange their lives to make it work."
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said Thursday that he hopes Stop & Shop will now rework the plan. “I hope that they will continue to work with the town and the Island community to improve their facility and that after some thought they come back to us with a plan that reflects some of the input that the community has given them,” Mr. Israel said.
Tisbury planning board co-chairman Tony Peak said that by withdrawing the proposal, Stop & Shop may have avoided a turn-down by the MVC. “Sometimes a denial prohibits a reapplication for a certain period of time unless it’s substantially different,” he said, adding: “Given the way we came to feel on the planning board, and myself personally, on what they were proposing at that specific location . . . I’m pleased that they decided to withdraw,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Peak said he hoped the town’s work on the municipal parking lot adjacent to the grocery store will move forward. “I hope that the planning process will continue because I think the planning board’s goal certainly would remain the same no matter what happens with the surrounding area,” he said.
Outgoing selectman Jeffrey Kristal, who is not seeking reelection and was the lone member to support the project, said he couldn’t comment on the decision to withdraw the plan because he wasn’t privy to the reasons for withdrawal.
“I think the town needs development in that area,” Mr. Kristal said, adding that they should clean up the entire B-1 district all the way down the waterfront. He praised the Martha’s Vineyard Commission process.
“I think they did an excellent job in their meetings,” he said.
Commission executive director Mark London was out of the office Thursday and unavailable to speak to the Gazette.