Master Plan for Vineyard Haven Links Downtown and Waterfront

By MAX HART

A pedestrian walkway that stretches along the perimeter of the harbor. Traffic patterns aimed at easing congestion in the Island's most notorious intersection. Improved public transportation routes that will offer passengers more alternatives. A town hall nestled in the heart of the village.

These are the concepts behind an ambitious futuristic plan for downtown Vineyard Haven, presented last week by the Tisbury planning board. From redesigning a crosswalk near the post office to turning Five Corners into a four-way intersection, the plan ranges from subtle to sweeping, with overall goals of creating a more pedestrian-friendly, attractive town center and opening up public access to the harbor.

Last Wednesday, members of the planning board offered glimpses of the new plan at a public meeting at the Tisbury Senior Center.

Read the Tisbury planning board master plan.

"We wanted to look at everything in totality," planning board member Henry Stephenson said at the outset. "We looked at the town and determined that the real central corridor of the town is not Main street, but Beach street, from the entrance to Main street down to the water. By doing this, it allowed us to focus more on incorporating more of the waterfront and the Lagoon in our concepts."

Mr. Stephenson, one of the plan's main architects, began Wednesday's presentation by highlighting improvements designed to increase pedestrian safety and activity. Most notable was the harbor walk, a pedestrian walkway that would begin at Owen Park and stretch past the R.M. Packer Co. on Beach Road. The pathway would run across Steamship Authority property and follow the shoreline between the Black Dog and the Tisbury Shell station before cutting out along Beach Road toward the Lagoon Pond drawbridge.

The harbor walk would also connect to a network of paths that would loop back along the Lagoon behind the Tisbury Market Place, run through Veteran's Park and along Cromwell avenue up to Union street, creating a continuous circuit for pedestrians and cyclists.

"Elements of our plan are based on the assumption several things will happen in the coming years, namely the construction of a new emergency services facility on State Road and the resolution to the Boch Park property discussions," Mr. Stephenson said. "If those two issues are resolved the way we hope and think they will be, then it opens a lot of doors as to what the town can do."

The construction of a new emergency services facility that would house both the fire department and ambulance service has been proposed by town leaders but has yet to come before voters. Currently, several sites along State Road are under examination for the facility. Mr. Stephenson characterized the new building as one of the plan's key components.

The Boch Park property, a harborfront lot off Beach Road that has remained vacant for years, is currently the subject of talks between the town selectmen and members of the Boch family. The master plan unveiled last week assumes the property will be available to the town for access and possible development.

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the plan calls for moving the town hall from its current location on Spring street to a location in the middle of downtown. With the fire department vacating its current spot along Beach street, the committee imagined the old firehouse as the future home of the town hall.

If the town hall moves, the Katharine Cornell Theatre at Association Hall could be converted into a cultural center, town planners say. The town hall annex, which currently houses an overflow of town departments, is planned for future teacher housing or a possible day care center.

The plan envisions a series of new vehicular traffic patterns and service roads, including several new roads that are aimed at reducing the impact of traffic on Five Corners. The plan calls for two new cut through roads; the first would run behind the properties facing Beach street connecting Lagoon Pond Road with Causeway Road, and the second would link Beach street extension with Beach Road at the Boch property. Beach street extension would become one way heading toward the water with an exit onto Beach Road.

The plan calls for reversing the flow of traffic on Union street and altering Vineyard Transit Authority bus routes for the Tisbury Park and Ride program. The plan suggests rerouting buses originating from the Park and Ride lot on upper State Road down Pine and Spring streets to the SSA terminal, and sending them back up Union, Church and Centre streets on the way out of town. The new route would avoid Five Corners and pass several the key parking lots, something Mr. Stephenson said might encourage more people to leave their cars out of downtown when they shop.

While much of the plan is conceptual, part of it is already under way. Both the Stop & Shop and post office parking lots are in the early stages of a redesign, and include the planning board's suggestions for pedestrian walkways, and should be completed this year.

This week, Mr. Stephenson said that while it is only the first step, he sees the plan as offering a fresh perspective on recasting one of the Island's oldest and most vital towns.

"It's a good plan because I think it is all within reach and would really improve the existing condition," he said. "Our basic strategy is to piggyback on what is going through now. The waterfront is going to be a hard one, and I think looking at zoning down there will be the next step. Because you want to keep it a working district, but you want to be careful not to change the character that has endured all these years."