Vineyard House Plan Wins Approval Amid Praise for Community Benefits

By IAN FEIN

The Martha's Vineyard Commission last week unanimously and enthusiastically approved a new Tisbury campus for Vineyard House, a grass roots Island program that runs homes for Island men and women in the early stages of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

Reviewing the project as a development of regional impact (DRI), commission members said last Thursday that the many benefits Vineyard House offered to the community far outweighed any detriments.

"There is a greater benefit with this than with any other project I think I've seen on the commission," said Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark. "There are detriments to traffic and wastewater. But Vineyard House has done all that could be reasonably expected of an applicant, especially with financial limitations, and I applaud that."

Other commission members echoed Mr. Sederholm's remarks in praising the organization.

"Vineyard House offers a wonderful benefit to the Island. It's completely publicly supported, but without public money," said Christina Brown of Edgartown. "It serves our mothers, our fathers, our children, our brothers. We all have friends and relatives that were touched by needing a piece of Vineyard House."

Commission member John Best of Tisbury noted that the location - on four and a half acres off Holmes Hole Road, at the western edge of the State Road business corridor - was an ideal site for such a development.

"It's a community-oriented use - with a benefit to virtually all the people on the Island - in a commercial area. It will probably be the best-looking, best-designed use in the whole neighborhood," Mr. Best said. "It will also be close to public transportation and convenient for residents. But more importantly, it will be affordable."

In the eight years since it opened, Vineyard House started two homes for men with a total of 17 beds and another home for women with seven beds, all in Oak Bluffs. But with 100 per cent occupancy and a growing demand for help, the program turns away applicants every week.

The Vineyard House complex approved by the commission last week would consolidate the program's facilities into three buildings on one central site - with a total of 40 beds and 13,000 square feet.

Before Vineyard House can break ground on its new campus, however, the project will require a special permit from the Tisbury planning board.

At a public hearing last month commission members expressed some concern about building such a large residential complex in an area that already has traffic and wastewater issues, and is slated for other major developments in the near future.

The site is on Short Hill Road, just north of the Tisbury landfill - in the same spot where the Tisbury planning board has proposed a connector road that will run from State Road to Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. The commission also approved a new Dukes County Savings Bank for the old Nobnocket garage site off Holmes Hole Road last fall.

Vineyard House offered to use a dentrification septic system to alleviate wastewater concerns, and also purchased an additional two acres of land on top of the original 2.5 to increase its nitrogen-carrying capacity.

Conditions for approval include a requirement that the Vineyard House file annual septic reports and allow no further nitrogen loading on the back two acres of land that are currently used as vehicle storage. Other conditions address energy efficiency and landscaping issues such as fencing, lighting and screening.

Commission chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury praised Vineyard House for the quality of its application and its willingness to incorporate the commission's recommendations.

"I've seen before that it's possible to have good intentions and a bad plan, but this is good intentions with a good plan," Mrs. Sibley said. "I really appreciate that the applicants thought hard about making the plan work."

Vineyard House executive director Brian Mackey said after receiving approval from the commission last Thursday that he believed the process resulted in a better project.

"I think a lot of the conditions were helpful," he said. "We were in agreement with most of the changes along the way."

Mr. Mackey said he was also touched by the remarks from commission members about the benefits of the project and organization.

"Just listening to that made the whole process worthwhile," Mr. Mackey said. "That the community gets behind and supports a program like this really means a lot."