Tisbury Town Officials Receive a Wide Array of Complaints as Redesign Project Begins at Lot on Water Street

Under construction but still open - that is the tag line for the Water street parking lot in Vineyard Haven, which was the subject of widespread complaints before the Tisbury selectmen this week.

So many in fact, that on Wednesday morning a motley crew gathered at the parking lot: two contractors, a planning board member, two selectmen, the manager of Stop & Shop, the ambulance coordinator, the public works director, the town administrator, a police officer and an abutter.

The Tisbury police chief asked jokingly if they had a permit for their parade.

Despite appearances, this was a public meeting, continued from the town selectmen's meeting that ended at 9 p.m. the night before. With the sun beating down, backhoe shovels swinging overhead, giant holes in the ground and confused drivers searching for parking spots, everyone who showed up to discuss the Water street parking lot did so at their own risk.

Since construction began last week, the town has received complaints from a wide array of people who use the parking lot, which lies between Stop & Shop and the police and ambulance departments and across the street from the Steamship Authority ferry terminal.

Among those complaining are the ambulance drivers and policemen, who have had trouble leaving their cramped corner of the lot. The ambulance has been parked on the dirt area behind the comfort station when construction equipment is blocking the exit lane.

At Tuesday night's selectmen's meeting Stop & Shop manager Sam Koohy described the parking lot over Memorial Day weekend literally as a hellhole. Mr. Koohy also said patrons have complained that the parking spaces for handicapped drivers by Menemsha Blues are on a slope that makes reaching them treacherous.

Selectman Tristan Israel said he had been accosted by townspeople about the project when attempting to park there to go shopping.

"I was lucky to get out of there alive," Mr. Israel said on Tuesday night.

And that is to say nothing of citizen complaints and near-accidents, although police chief John R. Cashin said only one fender bender, a minor one, has been reported since construction began.

"People have been remarkably good," he said.

The selectmen decided Tuesday night to continue their discussion of the project the next day at 10 a.m. at the lot. Selectman and town health inspector Thomas Pachico, who has played a deliberately hands-off role in the project until now, led the meeting. The town hired the planning and design firm The Cecil Group of Boston last November to design it.

"I don't want to be that guy [who says] ‘It's not my plan so let's screw it up,' " Mr. Pachico said. "I just want it to work."

Kneeling in the dirt, planning board member and architect Henry Stevenson rolled out a translucent paper with his own adaptation of the design plans over the contractors' plans to show the areas needing adjustment. Everyone agreed the pavement should be brought in closer to the comfort station to gain more parking room, and the contractor said that would be no problem.

Ambulance coordinator Jeffrey Pratt asked that a sidewalk be built flush with the pavement.

"That way, if we're all clogged up over there, we can go out this way," Mr. Pratt said, referencing the main exit lane and the unpaved area behind the comfort station that would bring the ambulance over to Union street. "As long as we can drive over it, I have no more input," he added.

Police officer Mark Santon asked whether a parking spot could be created out of a planned landscaped area that would impede access to an existing police parking spot.

"This is a parking lot, not a park," Mr. Koohey noted in agreement.

Several people campaigned for angled parking spots, rather than perpendicular ones.

"Everybody's doing three-point turns to get out of the parking spaces. Just sit and watch," Mr. Santon said.

The contractors listened politely, occasionally asking for clarification. Contractor Michael Melvin of Lawrence-Lynch Corp., which is based in Falmouth, noted that the parking lot likely would not be striped again until fall.

As a debate ensued over reducing the size of a landscaped island, contractor Christopher Lynch said he would need written authorization for the change.

"It's not our plan. We're going to build what's on the plan," Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. Pachico suggested that one parking space that could only be reached by backing into it be designated as a handicapped space. Selectman Denys Wortman said he did not think that would be very accommodating for some handicapped people.

Most in attendance agreed that some of the outrage about the parking lot will end once it is finished. Town leaders had instructed Lawrence-Lynch Corp. to keep the parking lot open whenever possible throughout the project. There are no signs yet and the parking spots are not full length because the paving falls a full foot short of all of the curbing that will be installed. That increases the width of a nine-foot island to an 11-foot dirt divide between parking rows.

General confusion in the parking lot was obvious throughout the meeting.

An elderly pedestrian was almost hit by a car pulling out of a space. Several near-fender benders occurred. A car backed over several cones blocking off a potentially dangerous area. With the cones out of place, drivers filtered into that area to park.

But steady progress was also evident. Even as changes were suggested by the makeshift task force, giant honeycomb-like drainage basins stood ready to be dropped into holes in the ground, which were being dug out by a backhoe. When an enormous flatbed truck with granite curbing pulled in, the meeting moved to another part of the parking lot so workers could offload the curbing. The contract with Lawrence-Lynch Corp. stipulates that the project must be finished by Saturday, June 30.

Some who attended the meeting were enthusiastic about the project, which aims to beautify the first impression of the Island and Vineyard Haven for visitors when they step off the ferry across the street. Trees and landscaping are planned for the islands that divide parking rows, and the traffic flow layout allows cars to circulate the rows to look for a parking spot without exiting onto Water street.

"Whenever you make a change, there are going to be accidents," said Brian Hall, whose family owns the Capawock theatre that abuts the parking lot. "It's the nature of the beast."

Mr. Wortman was also positive.

"I think it's going to be terrific when it's done," he said. "I've got full faith."