Oak Bluffs selectmen dig into thorny issue with Island landscaper
At first, the request for a home-based business permit from Mark Crossland, owner of Crossland Landscaping, seemed like a perfunctory piece of business at Tuesday night's meeting of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. However, the discussion illuminated a grey area that has far-reaching consequences for Mr. Crossland and other landscapers and home-based business owners in Oak Bluffs.
Under the the town's zoning bylaws, home-based businesses are allowed by right, or by a special permit issued by the selectmen, depending on a set of specific guidelines.
Mr. Crossland, a well-established businessman in the community, has operated Crossland Landscape from his home for the past 31 years in a residential district, without a home-based business permit. A conflict arose when Greg Packish, the son of Mr. Crossland's elderly neighbor, filed a complaint with James Dunn, the town building inspector. Mr. Packish said the business overflow from Mr. Crossland's property was inhibiting his ability to sell his mother's home, which he contends is necessary to pay for the nursing home care she now needs.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Crossland appeared before the selectmen to obtain the required permit that would allow him to continue business as usual. Selectman Michael Santoro recused himself from the discussion, due to his business relationship with Mr. Crossland.
"I have letters from my neighbors and my direct abutters," Mr. Crossland said, holding up a thick file. "I haven't had any complaints in 31 years, until recently. The guy next to me is trying to sell his mother's property. His mother never said a word to me in 30 years. I had no complaints."
Chairman Walter Vail asked Mr. Crossland if there were issues regarding what he stores on his property.
"I don't think there are," said Mr. Crossland. "The building inspector's been there, the fire marshal's been there. I removed about 600 pallets. I store fertilizer inside a quonset hut. The fire chief said it was fine. I don't make noise, the guys come in at eight, we come back from the day at five o'clock. My family works for me, so they're residents. I have one guy and the rest are subcontractors. I don't require off street parking. I don't require a sign. I'm not retail or wholesale."
"Jim, are there any issues from your end?" Mr. Vail asked Mr. Dunn.
"Yes," said Mr. Dunn. "Mr. Crossland does not qualify as a home-based business because he operates on a smaller parcel [less than the required two acres]. The size of the landscape company is too large, too much equipment, too many trucks, too many employees. There have been some issues and complaints. However, I recommended we issue a special permit to Mark and he operate his business according to the conditions of the special permit."
One of the 14 conditions of the special permit require Mr. Crossland to store most of his equipment, including his trucks, indoors.
"Are there any of these conditions you can't do, Mark?" asked Mr. Vail.
"Park my trucks inside, is that what you're saying? Mr. Crossland asked Mr. Dunn.
"It's not what I'm saying, it's what the conditions say," replied Mr. Dunn. "Mark lives in a location where he has a pretty good sized lot. Unfortunately it's not two acres, otherwise we wouldn't be here."
"His mother's seen this for 31 years. She never said a word," repeated Mr. Crossland, referring to the complainant.
"His mother is extremely old. He's probably going to sell the property to put her in a nursing home. Again, not part of our purview; we hear sad stories all the time. But he's trying to sell the property," said Mr. Dunn.
"Is this the only instance of this in town?" asked selectman Greg Coogan, eliciting some knowing laughs from the room.
"No," said Mr. Dunn, flatly.
"I thought so," said Mr. Coogan. "I think this is a bigger issue."
"The zoning board used to do this [granting home-based business permits] and nobody wanted to deal with it so they threw it to the selectmen." said Ms. Barmakian. "Because this happens a lot in town I don't think we can ignore it. This issue keeps coming up, usually with landscapers."
"This is a 2003 law," said Mr. Crossland. "I started there in 1982. I was doing business for 20 years."
"We do need to address it somehow," said Ms. Barmakian.
Selectman Kathy Burton asked for more time to go over the conditions of the special permit and to make a site inspection, but she was clearly in favor of flexibility. "I think it's part of the fabric of our small town community," she said. "I have a landscaper who lives behind me and he doesn't complain about my dogs and I don't complain about his beeping truck. It is what it is."
"I think we really do need to look at this," said Mr. Coogan. "I won't say tip of the iceberg, but there are situations where we need to act somewhat uniformly. We've been talking about this for a long time."
The selectmen agreed to revisit the issue on November 19.
Circuit Ave. accord
On another building issue, Bill Coggins appeared before the board to present a new plan for his lot at 16 Circuit Avenue. Mr. Coggins bought the property last spring when it was essentially a dark alley and invested $40,000 to create a well-lit, bricked outdoor area that he wanted to lease to cart vendors for two years, the estimated time it would take to put a new building on the premises. Mr. Coggins's plan, and subsequent revisions of it, were repeatedly rejected by the selectmen over the past seven months. The ongoing battle culminated in Mr. Coggins threatening legal action as he angrily left the September 10 selectmen's meeting.
Mr. Coggins took a decidedly different tack at Tuesday night's meeting. Along with Island builder Mark Nicotera, Mr. Coggins presented the selectmen with a computer-generated model of a new two-story retail and residential building he intends to build on the lot. Mr. Nicotera said that insulated concrete form technology (ICF) would allow him to build the exterior in a matter of days. ICF is a system of modular concrete units that are dry-stacked and filled with concrete. Mr. Coggins was originally told constructing a new building would take two years, which is why he was seeking permission for retail carts. With the vastly truncated building time, the cart issue became moot.
Although the selectmen do not approve construction permits, Mr. Coggins and Mr. Nicotera made their presentation in the hopes that their endorsement would help expedite the permit process. The board was clearly enthusiastic — and relieved — about Mr. Coggins's new direction.
In a telephone conversation with the Times, Mr. Coggins described what led to his change in plans. "It was a hard decision," he said. "I went to a lawyer in Boston and he said we would have prevailed quite easily. But I really didn't want to sue the town of Oak Bluffs. I already spent seven months on this, it would have been at least another five months in court."
Mr. Coggins said that, moving forward, the speed of the permit process is paramount. "We need the town's cooperation," he said. "I have to be finished by May. I need to break ground by December 1. If I get a big runaround, for whatever reason, I will go back for the carts."
A job for grandma
Town administrator Robert Whritenour announced that the town is reinstating the Senior Citizen Property Tax Work-off Program. The program will enable up to 12 town residents, age 60 or older, to pay up to $1,000 of their property tax bill by working for the town. "We're looking at it as a way of attracting talent from the community and a low cost way of assisting the departments in better serving the public," Mr. Whritenour said.
In other business, Highway Superintendent Richard Combra said the northbound lane of East Chop Drive between Brewster Ave. and Munroe Ave. will be closed by the end of next week.
This article was updated to correct the name of Mr. Packish.