Plans for a YMCA Go to Commission for Formal Review


Proponents of the YMCA of Martha's Vineyard go before the Martha's Vineyard Commission this week with their plans for a 35,000-square-foot recreational facility behind the skate park in Oak Bluffs.

YMCA officials are hoping to break ground this fall on the community-funded project, which originated roughly five years ago with an effort to build an indoor pool.

"We're looking forward to that winter day when it's 10 degrees outside and Island residents can go to our aquatic center to be with their kids and with other families," said YMCA executive director John Clese. "We really believe this project will be transforming for the Vineyard community - in ways that we're not even aware of yet."

The commission, which is reviewing the project as a development of regional impact, will hold a public hearing on the YMCA proposal Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria. Though the evening will mark the first formal hearing for the project, YMCA officials have worked with commission staff and other abutting property owners for more than a year, redesigning their site plan to share parking spaces and preserve some open space, among other things.

However, there remain unresolved issues with the five-acre property the YMCA will lease from the high school.

State environmental officials will visit the undeveloped site tomorrow to determine any possible impact on rare moth species which might use a grove of native pitch pines on the property as habitat.

Another likely issue will be the large amount of nitrogen loading produced by the YMCA on its relatively small piece of land. Oak Bluffs voters in April turned down a proposed package treatment plant that would have handled wastewater from the both the high school and YMCA, as well as other facilities in the area.

YMCA officials are considering potential interim nitrogen solutions, with the provision that they would tie into any shared treatment plant built in the future. It is expected that the high school will take the lead in pursuing such a facility because it has already surpassed its maximum sewage flow.

"We do believe that at some point some sort of wastewater treatment plant needs to go forward. But we definitely can't wait until then, because that could be four or five years down the line," Mr. Clese said. "We feel there are compromise steps we can take while the long-term solution is developed. I'm sure it will be an ongoing dialogue."

Some commission members have also raised questions about whether the proposed facility fits with Island character, or whether it represents more of a mainland-type development. Others have expressed concern about the size, and whether the services provided might compete with other Island organizations and businesses.

The current plan calls for a pool, teen center, public meeting rooms, childcare room, wellness center, and studio space for classes. The plan also leaves room for future expansion, including a proposed senior center and gymnasium.

Mr. Clese said first-phase construction was scaled back based on fundraising. YMCA officials announced in December they had raised more than half of their $14 million goal, and Mr. Clese said they held two fundraising events in Washington, D.C., and New York this spring, though he would not reveal the current tally of pledges. The grand opening is currently slated for some time in early 2009.

Though the YMCA does have a national umbrella organization, each facility is built and run locally, with decisions made by local board members. Mr. Clese said the national organization simply provides brand recognition, along with technical support and expertise.

He also noted that the YMCA of Martha's Vineyard has no intention of duplicating any services that already exist on the Island and said he does not believe the facility will negatively impact other nonprofit organizations like the Boys' and Girls' Club.

As of last Thursday, the only letter the commission received about the YMCA proposal came from the owners of the Mansion House Inn, Health Club and Spa in Vineyard Haven, who were concerned about impacts to their business. Owners of the Vineyard Tennis Center raised similar objections in the past.

Mr. Clese maintained the YMCA will be a wholly different entity than those private fitness centers.

"We believed all along - and I think all of our supporters have agreed - there is no facility like this that currently exists on the Island," Mr. Clese said. "We see the YMCA as more of a community center, and think it will just be a huge connection for so many groups and organizations. We really see it as the hub."