West Tisbury building inspector, lessons learned, takes on Trip Barnes disarray
Ernest Mendenhall, the West Tisbury building inspector, has tried since 2006 to get Clarence (Trip) Barnes to clean up his property at 534 State Road and get an occupancy permit for a secondary building. He has issued Mr. Barnes several tickets for zoning bylaw violations and even resorted to court action. And it appears the building inspector is not done yet.
In a report to selectmen last week, Mr. Mendenhall said that Mr. Barnes has not complied with a court order issued last March. The building inspector said he will take further action.
Mr. Barnes insists his property is under construction, to create affordable housing units, but that financial constraints have slowed the work. The Barnes property is a residential lot that once hosted a small business, the Indian Hill Equipment company, as well as the Wee Friends pre-school.
In a telephone interview with The Times, Mr. Mendenhall said he will meet this week with town counsel to figure out what will happen next. Options could include a civil lawsuit or more tickets, he said. "I am much smarter now. If I have to, I will write one ticket for each violation every day," he said.
Because Mr. Mendenhall failed to notify court officials that Mr. Barnes had not complied with the court's earlier ruling in the case, the matter was dismissed. It had been continued without a finding on condition that Mr. Barnes comply.
The effort to get Mr. Barnes to obey town bylaws dates to December 2006, when Mr. Mendenhall sent the first of three letters requesting cleanup followed by citations, promises of compliance, court appearances, and delays. Mr. Mendenhall said that the town has never had a case of this type before. In the past, he said, "Someone would get a couple of tickets and things got worked out."
In January 2009. Mr. Mendenhall began issuing daily citations, 14 in all, from January 22 to February 4. The violations included debris on the property amounting to what West Tisbury defines as a junk yard, no occupancy permit for an occupied apartment, and more than one unregistered vehicle on the property.
Mr. Mendenhall told The Times that "justice had been served," when Edgartown District Court continued the case without a finding on condition and gave Mr. Barnes six months to clean up the property or pay a $4,000 fine.
The six months passed, and the case was dismissed without a finding.
In the meantime, Mr. Barnes, owner of Barnes Trucking and a well-known Island personality and charity auctioneer, received a permit from the West Tisbury planning board to convert the building at the rear of the property, the former Wee Friends pre-school, into a three-unit affordable housing rental unit.
Mr. Barnes sees the story differently. He told The Times that an elderly friend lives there in the unzoned apartment rent-free. He is helping to renovate the building so that additional tenants will be able to rent the two studio units on the first floor.
"If the town wants to get him out of here," Mr. Barnes said, "they will have to do it. I don't have the heart to do it."
During a tour of his property, Mr. Barnes said the used lumber, windows, and other wooden debris stacked in several areas are recycled materials that will be used in the renovation of the affordable housing units. He said a commercial trailer and a large storage unit parked on the property are used to store other recycled materials he intends to use in the renovation project.
Mr. Barnes said that he has dealer plates he could, if need be, put on a truck and a car parked on the land but unregistered.
The building project is being financed from his personal funds, Mr. Barnes said. "I needed another six months to finish the project, just as we went into the worst recession that Martha's Vineyard has ever seen," he said. "This is a big pain in the ass for me. There is no reason why I should be fined for creating affordable housing."