Oak Bluffs selectmen reverse decision on summer construction

On Monday afternoon, the sidewalk in front of the Circuit Avenue job site remained blocked. — Photo by Steve Myrick

At a specially scheduled meeting Monday evening, the Oak Bluffs selectmen reversed a decision they made six days earlier and voted unanimously to allow interior work to continue at a downtown construction project that has annoyed neighboring businesses.

At last week’s regular meeting, the selectmen ordered all work stopped after June 14 at 57 Circuit Avenue, formerly the Oyster Bar Grill restaurant and now owned by Edgartown National Bank. The vote reflected an extension of their established policy that prohibits renovation in the downtown business area after June 1.

The bank plans to create a new branch bank and office space in the building.

After 45 minutes of debate Monday, selectmen approved a set of conditions building inspector James Dunn proposed, that would allow only interior work, while restricting noise, material deliveries, and truck parking. The conditions also restrict work hours to 8 am to 4 pm, and prohibit work on weekends.

The conditions went into effect immediately.

“I don’t think we took into consideration the contractors, their employees, their families, and just what it means to get paid,” said Mr. Dunn, who did not attend last week’s meeting. Mr. Dunn said a violation of the conditions could, at his discretion, result in a stop work order.

He said that in the eight years he has worked in the building department, the selectmen’s policy prohibiting summer renovation was never enforced, and he recommended the policy should be revised.

The conditions approved Monday by selectmen also affect three other construction projects already permitted in the downtown area, including the Island Theater, but do not apply to any future projects. Selectmen said they may consider making the conditions a policy of the board, for all future permitted construction jobs.

The reversal came despite strong objections from several local businesses that were surprised and irritated that contractor C&J Hunt Construction rebuilt sidewalks over the weekend, effectively blocking all pedestrian traffic on that side of upper Circuit Avenue.

“Every business on that sidewalk lost their business,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “It was an absolute disaster.”

Dave Cook, who owns The Good Ship Lollypop, a year-round candy store at 61 Circuit Avenue, said he lost most of his business on Memorial Day weekend, and was dismayed to see the sidewalk blocked again last weekend.

“It disrupted the whole weekend,” Mr. Cook said. “It was worse than Memorial Day weekend. There was no way people could walk. They didn’t finish the sidewalk. Approximately 20 percent of the sidewalk has not been completed.”

Mr. Cook said he was not opposed to interior work in the summer, but he questioned whether the town has properly monitored the project and whether it has the resources to enforce the conditions voted Monday.

“I’m quite willing to let them go ahead and work during the summer,” Mr. Cook said, speaking directly to the selectmen. “However, when you say you have the resources to monitor this, all weekend you could have seen this and nobody did anything. I’m sure if one of you were in business on Circuit Avenue further up, and your sidewalk was blocked for six months, you would say something.”

There is no specific provision in the conditions that requires the company to complete the sidewalk. If it is not finished by June 14, all work will stop, and the town will erect some safety barriers to protect the public, town administrator Bob Whritenour said in an email to The Times Wednesday.

Former selectman Kerry Scott, who owns Good Dog Goods at 79 Circuit Avenue, said that on a normal June weekend day she would have about 200 people visit her store. She said 32 customers visited on Saturday.

“This is an out of control construction site,” Ms. Scott said. “These people are not being supervised.”

She criticized Mr. Dunn, accusing him of advocating for the contractor and the building’s owner, Edgartown National Bank, instead of the town.

“His wife works for the Edgartown National Bank,” Ms. Scott said. “I want him to advocate for me. I want him to uphold the building codes, the zoning laws. I don’t want him advocating for Edgartown National Bank or any other contractor. Make sure you know who you answer to. This is having a real tough effect. I don’t think they’ve earned the right to disrupt our lives. They can’t hurt small business.”

Mr. Dunn said he was not advocating for the contractor or the bank. He said his wife’s job with the bank did not affect his role as building inspector. He also said personal issues prevented him from monitoring the site over the weekend.

Chairman Walter Vail conceded that enforcement of building regulations has been an issue. “We are admittedly short of enforcement,” he said. “We’re trying to find a way to minimize the damage. Obviously last weekend was not a good scene. It doesn’t excuse the building contractor and it doesn’t excuse Edgartown National Bank. I would have hoped they could have done that earlier in the week. We need to do better, and with this as a guideline, I think this will work.”

The new conditions prohibit parking trucks or employee vehicles in the downtown area, and limit deliveries to 15 minutes stops between the hours of 8 am and 10 am, no exceptions.

One day after the Monday vote, about 1 pm, Tuesday afternoon, a C&J Hunt box truck was parked in front of the construction site, partially blocking the travel lane on Circuit Avenue.

Mr. Whritenour said he notified the building inspector, who spoke to the contractor.

“I guess they weren’t clear that even with the extension to June 14 to finish the exterior, they should still avoid parking all day in front of the building,” Mr. Whritenour said in an e-mail to The Times Wednesday. “It has been a struggle with this project.”

The contractor originally agreed to have the entire project completed by Memorial Day but now says the project will take approximately three more months.