Plans to add a large expansion to an Oak Bluffs church continued to face scrutiny at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission late last week, as commissioners and neighbors questioned the impact on the neighborhood and the environment.
The Alliance Community Church (formerly Nova Vida) has applied to build a 9,000-square-foot addition to its Ryan’s Way building in order to build a 150-seat church, space for classrooms and activities, and a three-bedroom parsonage on the second floor.
A roughly 7,000-square-foot building already exists on the property, and the commission in 2008 approved renovations to that building to create a 150-seat church and day care center. While the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital did operate a day care center in the first floor of the building (though the day care has now been vacated), the project was not otherwise developed. The congregation has been meeting elsewhere, most recently at the Federated Church in Edgartown.
The new plans were referred to the commission as a DRI because of the size of the building, the intensity of use and parking.
The new plans would call for a 4,500-square-foot footprint addition of 9,000 square feet, including a 4,500 square-foot basement commission DRI coordinator Paul Foley said in a staff report at the hearing last Thursday. The total church buildings would be more than 16,000 square feet. A staff summary said the church congregation has reportedly fluctuated between 60 and 80 members.
Mr. Foley said a new floor plan showed three one-bedroom apartments, but that was not compatible with R-1 residential zoning, so the plans have reverted to a three-bedroom parsonage on the second floor.
There are host of concerns about the plan, chief among them wastewater usage. Mr. Foley said the proposed wastewater usage would be way over the nitrogen-loading limit for the Lagoon Pond, creating an estimated 43.89 kilograms of nitrogen per year. Based on commission calculations, the nitrogen loading limit for the project would be 5.90 kilograms a year, although the building’s nitrogen level in the past has been over that amount. MVC executive director Mark London said the commission’s policy for those over the nitrogen limit is to allow the existing amount, but no more. This would put the church limit at 16.81 kilograms a year. An advanced denitrification septic system would get the project close to an allowable limit, Mr. Foley said.
But Mr. Foley noted that the proposed nitrogen limits were estimates because the usage and occupancy of the building wasn’t clear.
“If you won’t put limits on it then we pretty much have to assume for our calculations of judgments that it could happen 24 hours a day,” commissioner Linda Sibley said.
“You need to estimate usage, give yourself some leeway . . . and that is the limit,” Mr. London said.
Other concerns centered on the large size of the project, and what the space would be used for.
Oak Bluffs commissioner John Breckenridge said he was “still a little nervous” about a 4,500-square-foot basement used solely for mechanical equipment, and some noted that the basement has a bathroom and shower.
Church attorney Rosemarie Haigazian repeated that the basement would be used only for passive storage and mechanics.
Commissioner Fred Hancock has questions about two bathrooms with showers on the first floor, surrounded by three meeting rooms. “Given what we’ve heard from neighbors about the previous uses on this site, it seems like bathrooms with showers in it might suggest to some people they were there so those rooms could be bedrooms, and I think we would all like a definite understanding that that is not what will happen,” he said.
“In my experience a shower in a church bathroom is not a common thing. I think you’re not helping yourself any when you include that.”
Mr. Carvelho said most of the organization’s churches have bathrooms with showers, which are useful when people are playing sports or running around outside.
Ms. Haigazian said she would work on a way to address the concern and make it clear that the classrooms are strictly classrooms.
Outdoor lighting and parking are also unsettled. A revised site plan calls for 45 parking spaces, including two handicapped spaces. The applicants said carpooling and public transportation were viable options.
Commissioner Doug Sederholm noted that other smaller churches have the same or more parking than the church is proposing. “Wouldn’t it make sense to have more parking spaces?” he asked. “Nice to say people may carpool, nice to say on a bus line, doesn’t mean people will actually do that . . . if you want 150 people at a service, you ought to have enough parking for them,” he said.
Ms. Haigazian and architect Darran Reubens said smaller parking was planned party out of concern for neighbors.
Noise and hours of operation were also matters for debate and also relate to water usage.
Ms. Haigazian said the congregation is “going to want to do things that are a part of being a part of the church community,” she said. She noted that “this particular group of people, they certainly are different than the churches that we’ve had on this Island,” noting that services are in Portuguese and English.
Mr. Sederholm said that they were “applying to build a large church in a residential neighborhood and trying to accept the fact that you’re not the YMCA, you’re not the high school, you’re in a residential neighborhood and trying to balance free expression of religion to your neighbors who have the right to some quiet enjoyment of their homes.”
The church still has the 2008 approval to build a 150-seat church in the existing building. Because of state action in response to the economic downturn, the timeline for building that project extends to September 2014.
Neighbors reiterated concerns. Abutter Kris Chvatal said the building was poorly sited in a neighborhood that is rural for Oak Bluffs, “I can’t imagine a proposal that’s more dead on arrival than this one,” he said, noting that “the community value is exceeded by the burden on abutters.”
Valci Carvalho, the pastor’s son, responded. “Look at the evidence,” he said. “We’re in the middle of Edgartown right now, an area that is much more densely populated than the [proposed site].” He said there has been one complaint in four years.
But abutter Anthony Capelli was unconvinced. “This is really wearing on our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a residential area,” he said. “It really hasn’t done anybody in this room any good.”
Church members in the audience took exception to the statement. “Being a member of this church has changed my life,” said Anic Chaves, who sings in the women’s choir. “We’d love to have a place that we can call it our place so we can congregate together . . . right now we’re borrowing a space.”
The commission continued the public hearing to July 18.