The Martha’s Vineyard Commission plowed through a packed agenda for over three hours last Thursday night, approving proposals to store landscaping containers in West Tisbury and to dredge part of Tisbury harbor to make way for the return of a whaling ship. A long public hearing focused on outdoor lighting at the Vineyard Assembly of God Church on State Road, with neighbors concerned about the church’s proposal for increased lighting in the parking lot, and a shorter public hearing was held about a proposed propane facility on Evelyn Way.
All of the proposals were reviewed by the commission as developments of regional impact, or DRIs.
Vineyard Assembly of God’s proposal to replace nine three-foot bollard lights with six 12-foot tall lamp posts in their parking lot drew several parishioners and abutters. Pastor Joseph Dockter said the church has safety concerns about the existing lighting in the parking area, where the shorter lamps are blocked by a fence and provide insufficient light.
“Our desire as leaders is to be able to provide a safe environment for the people at our church,” he said. The lights are on automatic timers for church events, he added, which usually do not go later than 10 p.m.
Commissioners said the parking lot could be reconfigured for better lighting. “We want you to have a safe parking lot,” commission chairman Fred Hancock said. “Our belief is you can have a safe parking lot without adding the kind of lighting that you’re suggesting.”
Church member Duane Vought said the size and placement of the lights had been dictated by the commission when they first approved the church.
Commissioner Lenny Jason Jr. said he remembered the decision. “We went with low to appease the neighbors,” he said. “I’m sorry we did. It came back to bite us.” Church members reiterated their safety concerns, while neighbors said they had concerns about light pollution. Pam McCormick, a church trustee, said lighting has always been a problem and people have been hurt after falling in the lot. “My concern is safety,” she said. “The first and foremost priority is the safety of the people and the safety of the children. It’s just not a safe place when it’s dark.”
“I’m very concerned about excessive lights in a rural area,” said neighbor Janet Woodcock, adding that she is concerned about the deer, bats and insects in the neighborhood. She called for a reconfiguration of the parking lot with the existing lights. “Our neighborhood wouldn’t be disturbed,” she said. “It seems like the most obvious solution. Instead of going with big 11-foot tall illuminating lights.”
While some commissioners saw a possible example of the proposed lighting during a site visit, others said they wanted to see the proposed lights in action. The church agreed to turn the sample light on that night so commissioners could drive by after the meeting, and the public hearing was closed. The project will go through post-public hearing review at a Land Use Planning Committee meeting (LUPC).
Other projects were easily approved as developments of regional impact. A proposal to store eight containers off Dr. Fisher Road in West Tisbury was unanimously approved. The containers will be used by Fuller Landscaping to store machines and tools.
While the application was approved, the commission asked the applicant to have a fence on the property surveyed to make sure it is in the proper place. They also asked that the applicant hold a meeting of a neighborhood association.
Moving from rural West Tisbury to the waterfront, the commission readily approved Ralph Packer’s proposal to dredge about 5,600 cubic yards of material from Vineyard Haven harbor. The dredging would take place around three docks at the Tisbury Wharf, and the spoils would be deposited at the Tisbury land fill.
Mr. Packer said the dredging would bring the water to depths of 16 or 17 feet, and allow tall ships to come into Vineyard Haven harbor. Currently the ships come close to hitting the bottom at low tide. “You’ve gotta have some water under your keel,” Mr. Packer said.
The Department of Marine Fisheries recommends prohibiting dredging in the area between January 15 and May 31 because of fish and shellfish. And with the Charles W. Morgan, a restored whaling ship, scheduled to stop in the harbor next June, Mr. Packer said time was of the essence. The commission unanimously approved the project.
With the audience dwindling from standing-room only to just a few people, the commission closed the meeting with a public hearing for Rymes Propane’s proposal to operate a propane delivery business on Evelyn Way. The area would have four 30,000 gallon underground tanks.
Rymes, a New Hampshire based company, was temporarily leasing an area off High Point Lane for one 30,000 gallon tank, a project that was approved by the commission in June 2012. The new location would be more permanent.
Owner John Rymes said that since the company came to the Island a year and a half ago, it has “saved the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, in my estimate, over 10 million [dollars] in either pricing that’s been adjusted because I’m in town or people who have come to me for propane supply.”
The Tisbury fire chief has asked the state fire marshall to approve the proposal.
The commission closed the public hearing and scheduled the matter for a post-public hearing LUPC meeting.
At 9:55 p.m. the commission still had one matter on the agenda: discussion and deliberation on NStar’s controversial utility poles.
“Perhaps we can push this off to another day,” Mr. Hancock said, as commissioner Mr. Jason stood and put on his jacket. The meeting was adjourned and some commissioners checked the Red Sox score.
“Don’t forget to go see the lights!” Commissioner Erik Hammarlund said.