Tisbury Proposal: New Access to State Road

By ALEXIS TONTI

As part of its work on a master plan for Tisbury, the town planning board is now circulating an ambitious proposal aimed at transforming upper State Road from a commercial corridor into a traditional neighborhood with a mix of residential and business development.

Included in the proposal is a plan to build a connecting system of streets that would provide alternate links to the heavily traveled corridor - a road that would cut northwest off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near the Edgartown Bank and NStar power lines and then split into multiple branches, filtering traffic to State Road at three different points.

Planning board members hope their proposal will jump-start a discussion about growth management in the area, a section of town bounded approximately by State, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and Cook roads and the Oak Bluffs town line.

"This is part of an ongoing examination of ideas that in the end may or may not prove practical. We want people to engage us on that level - to tell us what they like and don't like and how to make it better," planning board chairman Tony Peak said this week.

"The road is a mess. Even those who don't deem it failed will concede it's very low down on the ranking. The initiative the planning board has taken and the brainstorming they are doing is refreshing," said selectman Tristan Israel.

The problems along upper State Road are familiar to residents across the Island. All along the corridor cars enter and exit the roadway at a steady clip, a problem exacerbated by the summertime surge in population. Traffic at the bottleneck where State Road meets Edgartown Road often backs up more than 20 cars deep.

"[Upper State Road] is essentially a suburban strip development. It's not in the character of the more traditional part of Tisbury or other Island towns," said Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

"It's the kind of commercial strip development that takes place all across North America, with many cases of buildings set back behind parking lots so it is not an environment conducive to walking."

But town planners see something different.

Planning board member Henry Stephenson described the upper State Road area as a patchwork of undeveloped land, semi-industrial business and staples of year-round living - an unusual mix for such a small space.

"It used to be the edge of town, so you have the landfill, the town well, more marginal uses and light industry, the auto repair guy, the moving company," said Mr. Stephenson, who drafted much of the proposal.

"But now after years of growth, we have another town center up there - hardware store, grocery store, doctors' offices. The convergence of the two makes it possible to have a land use plan that considers a number of issues together - traffic, open space preservation, housing and affordable housing."

The area under consideration for housing comprises more than seven acres of marginal and vacant land. With year-round commercial services within walking distance, along with schools, public transportation, parks and recreation, the planning board has pegged the location as ideal for residential living.

"There's a lot of air in there. It's not wooded land, it's not neighborhood, it's not wetland, it's not anything. You can build without disturbing an existing, settled neighborhood. And this way you're not sprawling into the country," said Mr. Stephenson.

In addition, the detailed proposal also calls for:

* Creating a transit center at the Park and Ride lot.

* Extending commercial development along High Point Lane.

* Relocating emergency services to the area.

* Creating a motor vehicle storage area within the landfill.

* Expanding recreational opportunities.

Looking ahead, the MVC will be conducting a study over the next few weeks to determine the feasibility of changing the traffic pattern.

Drivers stopped at the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road bottleneck will be asked to fill out surveys about their origin and destination. The information then will be fed into a computer model that can project the impact of reworking the road network.

The proposal calls for the main branch of the new road system to travel from Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, down past the Park and Ride to High Point Lane; a branch left (up-Island) would loop around the landfill and on to Holmes Hole Road; a branch right would connect with Evelyn Way.

Mr. Peak stressed the proposal is a draft and that planning board members are a long way from asking residents to take any action on town meeting floor.

The board already has met with property owners in the State Road district to hear their concerns and has distributed copies of the proposal to the Tisbury selectmen.

Mr. Israel tempered his praise for the planning board's vision with concerns for the impact created by a new network of roads.

"It may alleviate some pressure on the Edgartown and State Road intersection, but it may cause problems elsewhere. We may wind up with two or three bottlenecks as opposed to the one we have now. Building roads is an expensive proposition, and we should consider other solutions to calm the traffic," Mr. Israel said.

Mr. London echoed some of Mr. Israel's sentiments: "There is the argument that traffic expands to fill the space available to it. And if that is the case, could we end up with the same problem several years down the line?

"The idea of planning this area so we can improve it and turn it into more of a mixed use, pedestrian friendly area - more of a traditional Vineyard Haven pattern of development - is desirable, but only provided we resolve other issues, traffic and also the reduction of development elsewhere," said Mr. London.

Mr. Israel concluded: "This is not about being anti growth, but we need to really look at and understand the impacts, because once you put these things in they are there forever, or virtually forever, along with the impacts they create. So if nothing else, we need to tread slowly."