Although names were never discussed, it might have been called Middletown or Centerville, a seventh town in the center of the Island that some envisioned as the future social and economic center of the Vineyard.
A 1972 study from the engineering firm Metcalf and Eddy suggested the creation of this town, both as a means to protect the integrity of the existing down-Island centers and to keep large-scale development away from the more vulnerable ecology and geography of the up-Island towns.
The study, commissioned by the Dukes County Planning and Economic Development Commission, the predecessor to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, concluded that the most logical place for the new town would be along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road where the new regional high school had been built a decade earlier.
Authors of the study conceded the creation of a new town was somewhat ambitious if not unconventional, but entirely necessary. “It is an out-of-the-ordinary approach to help preserve the extraordinary natural and human environment . . . If the stakes were not so high, then some less ambitious proposal would probably suffice,” the report states.
The study suggested that the new community include a variety of housing types and densities to suit a wide variety of tastes and incomes with an emphasis on senior and affordable housing. It also suggested the creation of a shopping mall and institutions of higher education like an environmental research laboratory or a specialized junior college or technical school.
“Such an educational situation,” the study said, “would tend to create a better cultural atmosphere in which graduates of the regional high school might be influenced to remain on the Vineyard.”
Over 30 years later, the seventh Island town as envisioned by the Metcalf and Eddy study has yet to materialize along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. There are no box stores or shopping mall, no research labs or junior colleges.
But what has developed on this one-mile stretch of road between the intersection of County and Barnes Roads does have the hallmarks of a town. There you will find a majority of the larger Island-wide institutions, like the regional high school, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and the Martha’s Vineyard Arena.
There is also the skate park, Woodside Village elderly housing, the Masonic Hall and the Island’s only funeral home. And that’s not counting the large number of projects slated for the busy corridor which are in various stages of development.
The largest is the 35,000-square-foot YMCA building to be built across from the high school that will feature a gymnasium, child care rooms, meeting facilities and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The YMCA facility is tentatively slated to open sometime in early 2009.
There are also proposals for three new churches that could turn the corridor into the Island’s own religion row. The 5,500-square-foot World Revival Church that will seat 200 people is nearly complete; and work is underway on the New Life Assembly of God church, a building that already exists but has plans to expand to accommodate 150 people and a day care center for 28 children.
A 4,600-square-foot church proposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and there have also been discussions in recent years by the Catholic diocese about building a large central church along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road that would serve its Island congregation.
With these Islandwide institutions already built, and several more on the way, the question hangs in the air — have some of the goals outlined in the 1972 Metcalf Study been achieved even though a town never was created?
It is true that the stretch of road has segregated many permanent year-round institutions from the more seasonal resort facilities, leaving room in the downtown areas for shops, restaurants and other tourist destinations, one of the goals in the report.
The Metcalf and Eddy report suggested that the new community be designed for a maximum of 10,000 to 15,000 year-round residents, a figure that was based on a projected year-round population of 35,000 by 1980 and 50,000 by 1990.
“The extent to which the new community reflects this pronounced seasonal difference depends upon the success or failure of Martha’s Vineyard in developing a broader base for its year-round economy and population,” the study said.
Of course, the Vineyard’s year round population never reached those projections, which perhaps negated the need for a new community in the center of the Island that would accommodate 15,000 people. But despite these unfulfilled predictions, the growth of the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven corridor has so far proven to be a planning success.
“This corridor has kind of worked itself out — whether through planning or natural inertia,” said Mark London, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. “For better or for worse, this area has evolved on its own and I would say overall the results range from good to very good,” he said., adding: “It has shifted a the density and traffic away from the downtown areas, but it has managed to do this without hurting the economy or seasonal businesses.”
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss agreed.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer. The kids get through with school and then they walk across the street to the skate park or [the future] YMCA,” he said.
There is still room for growth along the corridor.
Joe Alosso, the superintendent of the Oak Bluffs wastewater plant which treats the sewage from many of the facilities along the road, said there is more capacity, at least in terms of wastewater. But some feel the stretch of road could have been planned better.
“If you drive along the road you can see some buildings like Community Services you can’t even see, but others are right against the road and have parking lots where trees might have been planted,” Mr. London said.
Craig Whitaker, a part-time Vineyard Haven resident and urban planner, said the lack of planning has caused the Edgartown-Vineyard Road to now resemble any other roadway you might find in an urban or suburban area on the mainland.
“There is little consistency along the road; some of the buildings are fronted by parking and some are too close to the road. It would be stretch to call this a rural road, and there is little question it looks quite different [from the rest of the Vineyard],” he said.
Mr. Whitaker suggests an unorthodox approach: narrowing the roadway and planting vegetation along the shoulder to create natural screening while regulating traffic. He cited the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut as proof that such a plan could work. The parkway is known for its scenic layout and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“I know narrowing the road probably sounds crazy to a lot of people; but it has already proven to work on much busier roads. Whether you are driving down [Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road], through downtown Edgartown or along State Beach, you want to know you are on the Vineyard. We should take steps to make sure this place doesn’t start to resemble everywhere else,” he said.