Zoning officer says dirt bike noise is no violation
Organized dirt bike riding on a track at Nip 'n Tuck Farm in West Tisbury does not violate town bylaws, the town zoning inspector told selectmen last week. Abutters who complained to selectmen that the activity is noisy and disruptive have promised to appeal that decision.
Zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall gave his much-anticipated opinion on November 3, to selectmen. He said that he struggled with the question.
"I have been back and forth through the bylaws, and I have been over there to listen, and I have to say that in my opinion it's a residential accessory use," he said. "Quite honestly, it is noisy, but I do not think it rises to being a 'public nuisance.' I think that is probably an unpopular decision on my part, but that's my decision and I can be appealed to the zoning board of appeals."
Mr. Mendenhall advised on the question, at the request of selectmen after abutters pressed the town officials to order it stopped.
Noise by definition
Wayne Greenwell of Yellow Brick Road, a leader of that effort, read from a prepared statement November 3, at the selectmen's meeting, and asked the selectmen to explain what is ambiguous in the language and enforcement of Section 3.2-1 of the town bylaw that prohibits a nuisance to the community or to the neighborhood due to noise vibrations.
Mr. Greenwell said,"The bylaws were written by well-meaning people trying to preserve the quality of life West Tisbury is famous for. Toward that end, they used clear, simple language. There is a consensus that dirt biking at Nip 'n Tuck Farm is loud: the police who respond to complaints know that it's loud; there are dozens of neighbors who have called police, written letters, signed petitions, and come to meetings to say this is loud; even the bikers have acknowledged it's loud. So where is the ambiguity in this bylaw?"
Richard Knabel, chairman of the selectmen, said, "It is not a matter of it not being enforced. We have an enforcement mechanism. The enforcement mechanism is Mr. Mendenhall, and he said that in his opinion it is a residential accessory use and it is permitted and does not rise to the level of a public nuisance."
Mr. Knabel said that in addition to appealing to the ZBA the opponents could go before the Planning Board to ask that the bylaw be rewritten to correct any defects or inadequacies that may exist in the current noise bylaw. Mr. Knabel also said that a new bylaw could be written and submitted to the approval of town voters at the next annual town meeting or special town meeting, should one be scheduled sooner.
Mr. Greenwell asked Mr. Mendenhall to tell him when a situation becomes a nuisance to the neighborhood.
Mr. Mendenhall said, "I think this is a poor place to argue this. Strict adherence to 3.2-1 would mean that you could not mow your lawn; you couldn't cut a tree in your lawn. That's an annoying noise, and it is certainly beyond your property line that it makes a noise. As I said I really worked at this one, and I think it is better addressed at a higher level."
Mr. Greenwell asked if he would receive a formal written decision. Mr. Mendenhall said that since he had not received a formal complaint, he would not respond in writing.
Selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter said, "Let's not beat around the bush here. Let's get an opinion in writing." Mr. Mendenhall agreed to submit a written decision to the selectmen.
In a telephone interview with The Times, Mr. Greenwell said that opponents plan to appeal that ruling to the ZBA. He said that he hopes the matter will be before the ZBA within two months. "This situation affects our health, our economy and the quality of life of our neighborhood," he said.
Betsy and Fred Fisher own Nip 'n Tuck Farm. During a telephone interview Ms. Fisher told The Times that dirt bike riders have been riding on farm land since her middle child was a young boy, and he is now nearly 20 years old.
Over the years, more and more young riders came out to the farm, and then Jermaine J. (J.J.) Mendez offered to monitor the situation. In addition to being on site during the weekend hours when the dirt bike riding takes place, Mr. Mendez, who is an Oak Bluffs police officer, also constructed fencing to try to reduce the noise. He requires riders to sign a liability waiver. There have not been any accidents at the track, Ms. Fisher said.
"It is kind of a healthy thing. It doesn't disturb me. Yes, there is some noise, but I do not understand what all the fuss is about. My daughter is out there riding. It is very safe. Everybody follows safety rules," she said. "I don't want to annoy people. I want to be a good neighbor."
She said that she received one telephone call from a neighbor during the summer.
"I wish there was more direct communication. I wish someone had contacted me," she said.
Could be worse
In a telephone conversation yesterday, Mr. Mendez, who travels off-Island to race motocross, said that Fred Fisher asked him to set up a track on the Nip 'n Tuck Farm because a Fisher son wanted to ride a dirt bike. "He knew I knew how they were supposed to be run," Mr. Mendez told The Times.
He said only 20 people are allowed at the track site at any one time. There are eleven to twelve adults who ride and eight or nine children, who must be accompanied by an adult guardian. The youngest rider is five. "They are learning to ride the right way," he said.
Mr. Mendez said he regrets the controversy. "I am not there to make people angry," he said.
Mr. Mendez believes that some of the noise people hear comes from riders going across private property to reach a track on nearby property.
"I do not blame them. It is what it is. But it could be far worse," he said, noting that the operation is only run for 20 hours a month. "I could be riding all day long. Here I am trying to compromise, and nothing has been the right answer so far."
Mr. Mendez said, "It is all or nothing for some people." Of his chief critic, Wayne Greenwell, Mr. Mendez said he is the only person who has called to complain.
Mr. Mendez said that Mr. Greenwell has "zero tolerance" for the situation, and fencing and trees planted to abate the noise did little to moderate his view.