YMCA Backers Trumpet Plan to Build Pool, Youth Facility
By IAN FEIN
Boosters for the YMCA of Martha's Vineyard last week described to the Martha's Vineyard Commission what they say will be a life-changing new facility for the Island, providing young families, high school students and the entire community with a long-desired pool and gathering place.
"The Vineyard needs a Y," said West Tisbury resident Daniel Waters, a volunteer mentor for Island youth. "There are family environments on this Island that are toxic in every sense of the word. But kids will save themselves if they have a place to go. They need a supervised, affordable facility where they can be safe and blow off steam," he said, adding:
"In the end this project is really not about economics. It's about giving kids a life-saving, life-changing option."
The comments came at a public hearing Thursday evening in the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School cafeteria, which was attended by more than 70 people, virtually all of whom supported the YMCA. The project calls for building a 35,000-square-foot, green-designed recreational facility on an undeveloped five-acre property leased from the high school behind the skate park in Oak Bluffs. The commission is reviewing the proposal as a development of regional impact.
YMCA board president Charles Hughes of Vineyard Haven joined other board members and engineering professionals to present the project to the commission.
"All of us feel the Island deserves a facility like this," Mr. Hughes said. "We need an Islandwide community center, where people can plan and where families can come enjoy themselves."
The hearing lasted for two and a half hours and was continued to mid-July. A number of key issues remain unresolved, chief among them the wastewater disposal plan for the project. A report from state environmental officials about whether removing native pitch pines on the property will affect rare moths is still outstanding.
Commission members also requested more specific information regarding a few aspects of the proposal, including steps to make the area safe for pedestrians.
The wastewater disposal plan is still a work in progress, after a proposal to design a shared package treatment plant for the area was defeated by Oak Bluffs voters at their annual town meeting this spring. At the hearing last week there was general agreement that the ideal solution would be for the YMCA to work with other large facilities in the area, including the high school, to jointly treat wastewater and reduce the amount of nitrogen making its way into Lagoon Pond. But if a shared solution cannot be reached, YMCA spokesmen said they plan to design a standard denitrifying septic system and request a waiver from the commission wastewater policy. Even with a denitrifying system, the YMCA project would exceed commission loading limits for the nitrogen-sensitive Lagoon Pond watershed by more than 250 per cent.
Some commission members balked at the notion of a waiver.
"I would love to be able to see some solutions, rather than simply asking for a waiver," commission chairman Douglas Sederholm told the applicants.
Parking also remains an issue. YMCA officials have worked for more than a year with neighbors, town officials and commission staff to create shared parking and preserve some open space, among other things. But in a letter to the commission the Vineyard Transit Authority suggested that the number of proposed spaces should still be drastically reduced.
The project calls for roughly 50 YMCA parking spaces, 50 Martha's Vineyard Arena spaces, and another 150 spaces shared between the two entities. Transit authority administrator Angela Grant noted in a letter to the commission that the high school often has hundreds of additional parking spaces available directly across the street.
"In short, the number of parking spaces planned is absolutely ridiculous," Mrs. Grant wrote.
She said fewer parking spaces would also encourage more YMCA visitors to use public transportation. A traffic consultant hired for the project estimated that the YMCA at its peak might generate as many as 2,275 vehicle trips a day, which would be in addition to the roughly 15,000 vehicles that already use Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road during a busy summer day.
There was a strong show of support from neighboring organizations, including the skate park, high school, Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and Martha's Vineyard Community Services. YMCA spokesmen said they are working with some of the groups on memorandums of understanding that would, among other things, aim to prevent big events from taking place at multiple facilities at the same time.
"It's been a nice working relationship," said community services board president Susan Wasserman who noted that her organization remains concerned about drainage. "I'm going to be sorry to see the trees go, but this is progress. We're happy to have the Y in our neighborhood."
Other Vineyard nonprofits also spoke in favor of the project. Island Affordable Housing Fund executive director Patrick Manning said the YMCA complements housing initiatives on the Island, and noted that he recently stepped down from the board of his local YMCA when he moved to the Vineyard from the Hudson Valley in New York earlier this winter.
"As we try to keep people on the Island, it's groups like the YMCA that are trying to make sure there's a place where you can learn how to swim, where your kids are safe," he said. "As a fellow nonprofit, we say ‘Way to go Y.' And we look forward to being there at the groundbreaking this fall."
In earlier informal discussions, some commission members had questioned whether the proposed YMCA 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.
Sherman Goldstein, owner of the Mansion House Inn, Health Club and Spa in Vineyard Haven, wrote a letter to the commission supporting a community pool and youth center, but opposing the rest of the proposal. He said it would pose unfair competition to his business, and suggested that the full YMCA project goes against longstanding commission goals of discouraging sprawl, preserving character, and protecting water quality, among other things.
"It is without any hyperbole that the construction of a YMCA, with a full gym, classes, ‘coffee shop,' child care rooms, meeting facilities, several pools and hot tubs, saunas, steam room and other facilities - all seemingly benign and beneficial - are really a ‘Trojan Horse' gift to the Vineyard," Mr. Goldstein wrote.
"I have no objections to a community pool," he added. "The rest, however, is unnecessary and harmful to the Vineyard."
YMCA officials countered that the new facility would benefit the Vineyard economy by creating jobs, and would be a boon to the entire wellness community by providing a new entry point for people seeking healthy lifestyles.
Mr. Waters made a similar argument by pointing to the public libraries and private bookstores on the Island, which work together with a shared mission of encouraging people to read.
"As a person who goes to the gym, I seriously doubt that local fitness centers are going to lose clients if the Vineyard finally gets its YMCA," Mr. Waters said. "More people exercising means more business for everybody . . . Endorphins can be habit-forming."