Office Building Eyed for State Road


A 10,000-square-foot office building proposed for a congested stretch of State Road in Tisbury has shaken neighbors still trying to carve out a quiet residential life on this busy thoroughfare.

"We're the orphans from 1972 when the business district crept up the street," said Shirley Kennedy, a lifetime resident of Causeway Road, a residential street just up the hill from Main street.

Ms. Kennedy registered her complaints with the Martha's Vineyard Commission as members reviewed the project as a development of regional impact.

Just within the borders of the downtown Tisbury business district, longtime property owners Gerald and Martha Sullivan want to build an eight-unit office building along State Road at its intersection with Causeway Road. The three-story building would be constructed on the slope in front of the Edmond G. Coogan Law Office, on the same half-acre site. If built, the attorneys would relocate to the new office building, and the three-bedroom house currently hosting the law office would revert to a year-round rental for a municipal employee.

Only the top two stories of the structures, which are designed to look like three residential homes, will be visible from State Road. In one section of this 142-foot-long building, a first-floor terrace connects two pieces, providing a visual break in the structure along the State Road streetscape.

"The mass and scale of this project, I find shocking," said Judith Federowicz, chairman of the William Street Historic District Commission, which often weighs in on projects proposed in the downtown area.

"The mass and scale of the Mansion House building has certainly had an impact on the town, and I think we need to think twice before we do that again," said Ms. Federowicz.

While neighbors did express concern that the Causeway Road office building would dwarf homes immediately surrounding it, the prospect of nearly 200 added car trips a day to this clogged highway dominated much of Thursday night's discussion.

The applicant's traffic consultant said that congestion is bad enough in this area that adding 176 more trips wouldn't make it any worse. The MVC's own figures put peak traffic in the area at 18,000 vehicles per day.

"On a rough day in the summertime, [drivers coming out of Causeway Road] are relying on the kindness of strangers to make a left turn," said Andrew Grant, a traffic consultant retained by the Sullivans.

Neighbors confirmed Mr. Grant's assessment.

"Those of us living here don't have the luxury of avoiding the ‘wrong time of day,' " said Helen Gelotte, who lives along this section of State Road.

Residents described traffic so loud and incessant they can no longer carry on conversations on their front porches. They complained of five-minute waits to turn from their side streets onto State Road and of fences being knocked down by careless drivers. For some neighbors in this area, the Causeway Road office building promised more of the same elements - traffic and noise - they've been enduring for years.

The Sullivans are undertaking this $1.5 million project to build equity to pass on to their sons. Soon to be retired public educators in Boston, the Sullivans will be operating on a tight budget. Even after collecting an average of $1,950 per office each month, their budget forecasts no profit for the 20-year life of the mortgage.

"Our proposal is ambitious, but we believe in the future. In a sense we feel like a pair of cats in a room full of rocking chairs," Mr. Sullivan admitted in a letter to commissioners.

Cost concerns caused the Sullivans to shed several third-floor affordable apartments proposed in an early version of the project. Insurance rates, Mr. Sullivan said, jumped from less than $5,000 a year to more than $15,000 when residential units were added to the mix.

"As explained to me, and as you well know, residential insurance on the Island has gone haywire," Mr. Sullivan told commissioners.

Mr. Sullivan is also asking to be excused from the $13,000 affordable housing contribution recommended by the commission's guidelines.

Several residents questioned the need for more office space in Tisbury. An office building has just been completed in the last year on Church street, and commissioners several years ago approved an office complex yet to be built along Beach Road.

Commissioners have asked the applicant to explore the issue further.

"The reason it concerns us if there is a need. . . . It's certainly the impetus for people coming back to us years from now and asking for more use," said commissioner Linda Sibley.

The applicant is proposing an on-site septic system for the project; a two-year building moratorium is in place for the town's recently installed sewer system. The leaching field for the septic system is located 108 feet from a designated wetland. Groundwater flows in the direction of the harbor.

The Sullivans will need permission from both the town conservation commission and the board of health for the proposed septic system.

The office building, as proposed, is allowed by right in the B1 business district. "I didn't write the rules, and I attempted to play by the rules during this process," said Mr. Sullivan.

The public hearing has been continued to July 15.