Amid compliments and congratulations, the Martha's Vineyard Commission on Thursday unanimously approved the 35,000-square-foot YMCA building to be built across from the regional high school on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road following a whirlwind session of deliberations that wrapped up in under ninety minutes.
With the vote, the long-gestating YMCA project takes a huge step toward becoming reality. The project still needs the approval of the Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals, and project backers still need to reach the fund-raising mark of $11 million.
Backers have already racked up $9 million in pledges, but say they need an additional $2 million by Sept. 15 if construction is to start this year. If they fail to meet that goal, they say the start of the project will be moved back at least one full year. Under the best-case scenario for the project's proponents, the large-scale recreational facility would have a soft open in November or December of next year and officially open in January or February of 2009.
And while questions remain over fund-raising and capital campaign goals, the commission's vote on Thursday was an opportunity for unbridled optimism and excitation.
"We finally have a home. We have a place for our programs and our classes . . . and we have a place where we can grow roots and expand. This is a good day for the [YMCA] and this is a good day for the Island," said Judy Crawford, vice president of the YMCA board of directors.
YMCA executive director John Clese praised the commission for working with project planners to come up with the best possible plan.
"The commission helped us with a lot of the planning before we even applied; so we really hit the ground running. This is a wonderful design and a wonderful building that will be an asset for the entire Island," Mr. Clese said.
After three previous public hearings marked by a tangible collaboration, there was little left to debate during deliberations on Thursday. Commission chairman Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark quickly went through a list of conditions for approval that were recommended by the commission's land use subcommittee following a lengthy meeting last Monday.
Most of the conditions started as offers from the applicant, ranging from the minor, such as installing recycling bins, to the substantial, such as a condition requiring the YMCA to provide a minimum of $80,000 each year for subsidized memberships to Island families who quality for affordable housing.
Other conditions require the YMCA to install a bioretention basin near the skate park, maintain at least 45 per cent open space, and negotiate a final plan with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program that will protect several rare moths.
As offered by the applicant, the YMCA will also join the regional high school in a joint wastewater treatment solution for both buildings that involves pumping wastewater to the Oak Bluffs wastewater treatment facility and then pumping treated effluent back to a leaching field on the high school property.
Among other things, the YMCA also will offer to participate in the design of two crosswalks across the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and will contribute a minimum of $10,000 toward the work, will use pool water treated with a water-purifying system using salt electrolysis, and will create 57 new parking spaces.
Mr. Sederholm said the YMCA embraced the commission-endorsed notion of a campus plan, which calls for several community buildings to be bunched together so they can share infrastructure and resources along the busy Edgartown-Vineyard Haven corridor near the high school.
"You haven't just addressed your own particular needs, but those of your neighbors and the community," Mr. Sederholm said.
Commissioner Chris Murphy of Chilmark said the YMCA will benefit the entire community.
"This well help year-round residents, and it will provide opportunities for both the young and old . . . the YMCA is also a support system for people of low to moderate incomes," Mr. Murphy said.
Plans call for the 35,000-square-foot, green-designed YMCA to be built on an undeveloped five-acre property leased from the high school behind the skate park in Oak Bluffs. The project was reviewed as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Building plans call for a full gymnasium, child care rooms, meeting facilities, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, hot tubs, saunas and steam room.
John Klein, co-chairman of the YMCA capital campaign, said yesterday he hoped the commission's approval will cause a spike in fund-raising efforts.
"I hope people will see we have cleared a big hurdle and have a lot of momentum behind us; but we still need to find those people who are willing and able to push us over the goal line. I hope those people understand that it is now or never . . . if we don't raise that money soon we will not have a YMCA on the Island by the end of next year - pure and simple," Mr. Klein said.