Main Street Project Takes Shape in Tisbury


Tisbury's department of public works voted last week to have residents decide at town meeting next April the fate of seven components of the Main Street Project.

The project - a joint effort of the department of Public Works and the Tisbury Business Association - would take advantage of the opportunity for infrastructure improvements created when roads are dug up for sewer lines.

Construction of a new sewer system will begin no earlier than next fall. In the interim, DPW will schedule informational meetings about the project and listen to community input.

Vineyard Haven architect Jamie Weisman, of Terrain Associates, was contracted by DPW in September to develop the initial plans. Since then, he has read numerous letters of suggestion and met with both community members and groups such as the Tisbury Historical Society and harbor management committee.

Mr. Weisman has developed plans that he expects will enjoy widespread support. Over time, some ideas - such as changing Main street parking to the water side - have been discarded, while others have been put on hold. What began as 19 theoretical projects has since been reduced to seven.

Mr. Weisman sat down with the Gazette recently to discuss the projects.

"We not only identified the myriad of things that would be good for Vineyard Haven," Mr. Weisman said, "but we have really narrowed down, through the DPW, what projects seem most pertinent to bring before the town in the spring for one of three things: funding, to provide design development fees or to pursue granting opportunities."

Last week, DPW divided the proposed items into four categories - improvement of Main street sidewalks, reconfiguration of the Union street parking lot, A&P parking lot and Cromwell Lane/Memorial Park walkway.

Each of these four projects will be proposed to the town in April as a line item broken into components with discrete costs. DPW director Fred LaPiana said the proposal for Main street, for example, will include separate expenses for lighting and landscaping.

The DPW also will ask voters to approve fees to develop the designs of both a quay to be built at the end of the Beach Road extension - which would be a memorial for late selectman Edmund Coogan - and a visitor center, to be located on the current site of the public restrooms in the A&P parking lot.

Mr. Weisman said the latter proposal is for a new three-story building with bathrooms and visitor information on the first floor. An elevator and stairs would provide access to second and third floors housing a visitor center, in which historic photographs and other items could be displayed. The building would be topped by a widow's walk.

Such a facility would complete what Mr. Weisman called a town square on the existing lot.

"This becomes a place that has a lot of importance to the town. It creates a public center," he said.

Mr. Weisman's plan would reconfigure the A&P lot to create four rows of parking that flank a 30-foot-wide esplanade leading to the proposed visitor center and on to Main street.

DPW's final proposal will ask for permission to seek grant options for a walkway to run along the 2,000-foot cement sea wall on the harbor side. A section of such a walkway would feature both ramps and stairs leading down to the water's sand floor.

The walkway would extend under the drawbridge to connect to the Lagoon Pond side, where Mr. Weisman proposes to place a flush brick platform with stairs and two ramps leading into the water, along with an area for sitting. Mr. Weisman views the walkway as a wonderful handicap-accessible area along the water. Such access, he said, is unprecedented on the Island.

One key component of the project is what Mr. Weisman calls tactile crosswalks.

"When you drive over them," he said, "you become conscious of the fact. You can hear it or feel the vibrations."

Mr. Weisman said this type of crosswalk could be made with brick or cobblestone and could be either flush with the road or slightly raised.

The specific materials for each project have yet to be decided, but Mr. Weisman said they will be brick, cobblestone, blue stone, granite, concrete and asphalt.

"We are using the locally available and typical palette of materials to do this work," he said. "We are not going to use materials that are not a part of this Island.

"We have heard over and over again from different people," he added, "that one of the things that gives Vineyard Haven its own character is that it remains true to the fact that New England structures - not only buildings, but patterns of development - have not been defined and locked in stone in one particular time, but tend to change, grow and evolve.

"There is not an exact sameness to everything," Mr. Weisman said. "We may choose to not paint the town with a particular pattern of materials, but we may use this palette for the reality of differentiation."

On Union street, the proposal is to line the south side with 28 diagonal parking spaces, and then to rearrange the parking lot by closing off the entrance nearest MV Strictly Bikes and adding eight additional parking spots, for a total of 41. A sidewalk would be built along the north side, and the steep steps on the corner of Union and Main will be changed.

Mr. Weisman would like the Steamship Authority to remove the chamber of commerce shack currently on the beach in order to create an open area. This is an example, he said, of how the project seeks to combine harmoniously the public structures with the private.

"All these projects require cooperation between abutters and the public place," Mr. Weisman said. "Those adjacent to the work are going to benefit."

The Main street proposal would keep the basic layout the same, but narrow the roadway in certain areas and add landscaping.

"Basically what we are doing is taking parts of the street where vehicles do not drive and making them pedestrian areas," said Mr. Weisman.

In this spirit, the entrance to Main street will be narrowed. In general, the sidewalk on the west side, away from the water, will remain the same width except in front of Brickman's and the west corner of Spring street (at Main), where it will be widened. Sidewalks on the water side will be widened to a minimum of six feet and run up to Owen Park. There is enough room to do so while keeping the street as wide as 28 feet.

Other aesthetic improvements could come with the removal of the telephone poles. Mr. LaPiana said he is looking into the possibility of putting the electrical wires underground.

The plan for Cromwell Lane would create a walkway that extends across State Road and terminates at Memorial Park. The portion of the walkway that runs between the post office and the fire station would be three feet.

"Many good ideas have come out of this effort," said Mr. LaPiana. "We are looking at these because they are necessarily tied to the sewer project."

Mr. LaPiana said he expects that the bulk of the money for the project will have to come from the town and not from grants, but could not yet estimate a total cost.

On Dec. 4, the Tisbury board of selectmen heard a brief presentation regarding the project. Members did not comment at length, but selectman Tristan Israel noted that none of the $6.4 million allocated for the sewer project can be used for the "beautification" of the town.

Mr. Israel added that he nevertheless supported many of the ideas. "We need to dream and we need to realize some of our dreams," he said.

The selectmen asked to meet with DPW and plan to hold a public hearing on the project.

"People in town should get all their suggestions, positive or negative, to Mr. Weisman and attend the public meetings," said Jeff Kristal, president of the business association. "I hope people will be positive and be open. These are some really wonderful ideas and I hope everyone will embrace the project."