The negotiating skills of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen were put to the test at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, as they tried to reach a compromise between developer Sam Dunn and a group of abutters of the Uncas Avenue property where Mr. Dunn is building a 13,500-square-foot bowling alley/entertainment center which will replace a long-vacant and recently demolished laundromat.
In a letter to Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn dated May 28, Edgartown attorney Ellen Kaplan, who represents several abutters, asked thatall construction on the bowling alley be halted until September 15, in accordance with a town bylaw that was approved by the selectmen on July 23, 2013.
According to Ms. Kaplan’s letter, the bylaw “was enacted to prohibit construction or renovation of B-1 and B-2 zoned properties in the downtown areas of Oak Bluffs” during the summer, defined as June 1 to September 15.
Following a lengthy and at times heated discussion, selectmen voted 4-1 to allow construction to continue from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Thursday.
Initially there was confusion among the board about the geographic and legal scope of the July 23, 2013 vote, which chairman Greg Coogan quickly cleared up. “This was a policy, not a bylaw,” he said, holding up a copy of the minutes from the July 23 meeting. “When we voted, Kathy [selectman Kathy Burton] asked that we change from B-1 and B-2 to downtown, and that vote was unanimous. The original intent was not to block the sidewalks.”
Selectman Gail Barmakian said she had no recollection of the vote, and she maintained that the building moratorium should apply to all of B-1 and B-2 zoned property.
“We voted on July 23 after we discussed it at length as we do with every policy,” Ms. Burton said. “I think several of us believed we were voting for Circuit Ave., Kennebec and Circuit Ave Extension. I don’t understand why it was left in [the printed policy] after we voted on it.”
James Dunn apparently never received the amendment that changed the building moratorium from B-1 and B-2 to the “downtown district.”
“There’s a lot of confusion,” Sam Dunn said, adding that he’d received verbal assurances from town officials this spring that the building moratorium restriction would not apply to the Uncas Ave. location. “It would be great if we had a set of rules.”
In a letter to the selectmen dated June 10, James Dunn wrote, “the policy is very clear; and states; ‘to include all B-1 and B-2 zoned properties,’ applicable to ‘any and all construction, reconstruction, installation, demolition, maintenance, or repair of a building, to include painting.’”
In his letter, Mr. Dunn said he’d met with Sam Dunn three times over the past month hoping to reach a compromise that was “impartial and reasonable to all.” He suggested three options: stop all work as of June 30and resume on September 15; stop all work on July 14and resume on September 15; or stop all work on July 14 and resume the first week in September. Sam Dunn rejected all three proposals, according to the building inspector.
“A two-month delay has a significant impact,” Sam Dunn told the selectmen. “A steel building has been ordered, deposits have been made. I see nothing in this policy that is intended to protect abutters from noise. It’s about business. I believe we behaved honorably.”
John Folino, the general contractor on the project, also supervised the construction of MVTV building on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, which has a similar steel frame design. He said noise was never an issue.
“We had compliments, not complaints,” he said. “The loudest noise was the demolition, which is done.” Mr. Folino said that the prefabricated steel structure doesn’t require the sawing and hammering of a wood framed building, and that there would be no exterior work once it was erected. He also said the site will be fenced off and that safety and security will be maintained “religiously.”
“I know John, he’s a good builder,” James Dunn said. “I do think abutters deserve a certain amount of summer.”
Mr. Dunn reiterated his preference to stick with the B-1, B-2 moratorium that was on the books, regardless of the July 2013 amendment by the board.
Abutters to the Uncas Ave. location were again out in numbers to voice their objections. Noise and safety complaints were repeatedly stated.
“I’ve owned my property for 19 years. My life has changed forever,” abutter David Harte said. “This is five feet from my property. I’ve had my foundation shake, I’ve had my hedge taken down. This has not been easy. Give us a break and let us have our last summer.”
Ms. Kaplan said she had visited the site that day. “A large piece of equipment was moving earth and it was noisy,” she said.
Several abutters and attendees said that the fence surrounding the project was encroaching on the street, making it difficult for two cars to pass on an already narrow thoroughfare.
During the proceedings, Mr. Santoro repeatedly suggested a shortened work week as a compromise — restricting work to Monday through Thursday, and restricting hours from eight am until four pm. After a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the selectmen voted to endorse Mr. Santoro’s suggestion, 4-1, with selectman Gail Barmakian voting against.
In addition to time restrictions, the selectmen required Sam Dunn to keep the fences and all personal vehicles and construction vehicles within the property line. Holidays were also added to the work moratorium.
“I have had building on all sides of me for years, so I empathize” Mr. Coogan said. “But to stop a project cold is not fair to other areas in town.”
In response to an email from the Times on Wednesday, James Dunn weighed in on the decision. “I don’t feel the compromise is in keeping with the policy. As it stands, this continues the construction throughout the summer and basically giving eight Fridays of relief from what will be typical construction site activities.”
“It’s not ideal, but we’ll honor the decision of the selectmen,” Sam Dunn said in a phone call with the Times.”We’re going to work as hard as we can to be open by the holidays.”
Ms. Kaplan did not return a call from the Times.
Inkwell woes continue
In other business, citizen anger about the dredge spoils on Inkwell beach also raised the temperature in the room. Although many people, including the selectmen, thought the problem had been solved after the highway department supervised removal of the much maligned beach nourishment on May 23, a piqued group of attendees told the board that there was still a great deal of odiforous black material on Inkwell and State beach.
“I think Richie [highway department supervisor Richard Combra] took as much as he could,” parks commissioner Amy Billings said. “We can’t take any more off right now. It was a mistake and we’re trying to fix it.”
The dredge spoils that have been removed were placed at the town cemetery until a permanent location can be found. The suggestion that the remaining material could be raked and worked into existing sand only served to further chafe the attendees. Selectman Santoro said the selectmen were told that the problem had been fixed.
“You should go there, take your shoes off and walk around,” Oak Bluffs resident Greg Herman said to the selectmen. “Then decide if you think the problem is fixed.”
It subsequently became apparent that none of the selectmen had been to the beach since the highway department took action. “We’ll check into it tomorrow,” Mr. Coogan said.
Until recently, it was assumed by town officials that a solution to the Inkwell imbroglio would be the clean dredge spoils from Little Bridge that were scheduled to be placed on Inkwell beach in the first week of June. However, according to town administrator Robert Whritenour, Little Bridge dredging, which is 75 percent funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been delayed because a new FEMA project engineer has taken over, and the town has had to resubmit all documentation that had been previously approved. Mr. Whritenour said there is no timetable from FEMA, but the town is sitting on bids for the $321,000 project and will act quickly when FEMA signs off, again.
Selectmen voted unanimously to enter into a 20-year contract with Cape and Vineyard electric cooperative (CVEC) to purchase excess capacity from solar projects on the Cape and Islands. According to town administrator Robert Whritenour, the contract will save the town 20 percent on half of the municipal load, essentially saving the town $20,000 a year.
Selectmen also unanimously voted to approve a one-year lease for Angels Helping Animals, a nonprofit dog rescue organization headed by Leslie Hurd, for the empty town animal shelter. Ms. Hurd estimated she will be making $4,200 worth of repairs, which selectmen will allow her to deduct from the rent.