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Oak Bluffs

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Selectmen delay final approval vote amid continued uncertainty and opposition.

This snow-covered lot across from Oak Bluffs town hall is the proposed site of a park and ride lot. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The fits and starts of the Oak Bluffs park and ride proposal continued Tuesday night, when Oak Bluffs selectmen decided to postpone a final vote on the project at their regularly scheduled meeting. Continuing operational ambiguities, and opposition from an army of one, led Chairman Greg Coogan to recommend the formation of a committee of local stakeholders, to include at least one local resident.

The committee will be responsible for neighborhood outreach, will address issues raised at the hearing, and will monitor complaints throughout the summer, should the project move forward. The goal of the park and ride program is to alleviate parking congestion downtown, in nearby residential streets, and along the bulkhead during the summer season.

The proposed parking lot, which is already owned by the town, is at the corner of Pacific Avenue and School Street, behind the Catholic Parish Hall and adjacent to the town hall and library. There are currently 40 parking spaces, but the total could be expanded to 80, depending on demand. The proposed park and ride bus route would run between that lot and Ocean Park downtown.

Dorothy Underwood of Hampson Avenue was the entirety of the local opposition. Her withering critique of the board echoed her husband David’s highly charged complaints at the Feb. 24 meeting, when the board decided on a split, or part-time, shuttle schedule. Both Mr. and Ms. Underwood accused the board of ramming the project through without consideration for the local homeowners.

“We are not on board with this,” Ms. Underwood said. “This is a terrible, rotten deal. You’re taking our neighborhood away from us. You haven’t talked to the most important people — the people who live here. I never received a letter about it. Why all of a sudden does this have to go through? Why not wait two years and put it at the dump and not waste the money on something you have to take down? We need safety, sanity, and serenity, and we didn’t move here to lose them all. I’m ashamed to say I’ve given my vote to all of you, and I regret it.”

Selectman Michael Santoro, chairman of the roads and byways committee, told Ms. Underwood that she raised some good points, and that the purpose of the evening’s public hearing was precisely to give local residents the chance to be heard. He explained that the location for the proposed parking lot was chosen because it’s owned by the town and it’s already being used as a parking lot, so town investment would be minimal. He added that it will be several years before the town landfill is a realistic option for a parking lot.
“This isn’t the total solution to our park and ride issues,” he said. “This is a short-term solution. We’re going to have some kinks, but we can correct as we go along.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian and some members of the Oak Bluffs Association had registered disappointment that the selectmen chose a split schedule, and said that employer buy-in, critical to the success of the plan, was not a given. “I don’t think there’s any doubt this won’t work if we don’t have the support of the business community,” Mr. Coogan said.

Planning board chairman Brian Packish also registered his dissatisfaction with local outreach efforts, and said he too had spoken to several downtown business owners who were less than enthusiastic about the project.

Many crucial details for the park and ride have yet to be worked out, including when the service will begin, how the parking lot will be monitored, and how much the service will cost the town, which depends on how much, if any, funding the town gets from the Steamship Authority and the state department of transportation. The park and ride will cost an estimated $39,000. The town share is an estimated $11,757; however, if state and SSA funds are not forthcoming, the town will be responsible for the entire amount.

On Wednesday, Mr. Coogan and town administrator Robert Whritenour met with SSA General Manager Wayne Lamson to enlist SSA planning and financial support for the pilot project. “We had a positive conversation,” Mr. Coogan told The Times on Wednesday afternoon. “The SSA said they would like us to reach out to the other boat lines, the Island Queen, the Patriot, and the Hy-Line, to see if they’re willing to help as well.”

Mr. Lamson told The Times that he was going to recommend that the SSA members approve a town request for $10,000 at next week’s meeting. The park and ride goes before the planning board for a site-plan review on March 26.

In other business, Selectman Kathy Burton stated emphatically that, contrary to a rumor circulating around town, she is not moving from the Island, that she never considered the idea, and that she is still running for re-election in this April’s election.

In police business, per the recommendation of Chief Erik Blake, selectmen unanimously voted to appoint Timothy Millerick a full-time Oak Bluffs police officer.

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After an extensive search, Oak Bluffs has a new health agent, Adetokunbo Solarin. Mr. Solarin, a certified sanitarian, was previously the city sanitarian for Lynn; prior to that he worked for the Watertown health department for three years. He has a master’s degree in public health from Illinois State University.

“He’s highly professional and has a nice way with people, so we’re very confident with our Health Department programs moving forward, and we look forward to his working one-on-one with local businesses and residents to build partnerships in helping to safeguard public health in our town,” town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times in an email.

“He’s highly qualified, and we’re getting him at a good time, so he can be ready for the season,” health board chairman William White said. “He’s going to move to the Island, which we found preferable to the other final candidates, who were going to commute from off-Island.”

Mr. White said former health inspector Shirley Fauteux will continue to perform Title 5 septic inspections until Mr. Solarin is Title 5 certified. “He’s worked in urban areas, so septic was not an issue, but we expect him to be certified in April,” he said.

Mr. Solarin’s salary is $70,741 per year.

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Oak Bluffs officials closed East Chop Drive Saturday afternoon, between Munroe and Brewster Avenues. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Oak Bluffs town officials have announced that East Chop Drive, between Brewster and Munroe Avenues, will be closed from 5 pm, Saturday until at least 5 pm on Sunday, due to the incoming blizzard.

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The Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority is proposing a park and ride program for Oak Bluffs. — File photo by Susan Safford

On Thursday afternoon, the Oak Bluffs Roads and Byways Committee met to continue its discussion of whether to launch a Park and Ride Service this summer. The goal of the program is to alleviate parking congestion in downtown and along the bulkhead during the busy summer season. The primary audiences for this service are business employees in downtown and commuters who use ferry service to and from the town docks. The proposed parking lot, which is already owned by the town, is at the corner of Pacific Avenue and School Street behind the Catholic Parish Hall and adjacent to the town hall and library.  The proposed Park and Ride route would run back and forth from that lot to Ocean Park downtown.

Angela Grant, Administrator of the Vineyard Transportation Authority (VTA), described two options for consideration. One is “split schedule” with a break in service in the middle of the day. A full schedule running continually from 8 AM until approximately 8:30 PM is the second proposed plan. Rough cost for the split schedule is $40,000 and the full schedule is anticipated to be $62,000. The first year program would run for 74 days, from June 20 to September 1st.

Who Will Use the Service?

There appeared to be consensus on the committee and in the audience that either schedule would meet the needs of day shift employees downtown.

Doug Abdelnour spoke from the audience about the need for the schedule to accommodate late-shift workers also, especially wait staff and bartenders after midnight. He pointed out that if the last bus is at 8:30, the route schedule simply won’t meet this group’s needs. He said, “If an early schedule ends up being the only option, word travels fast, and I would hate to see the program fail from the start.”

Ms. Grant then outlined a new route schedule for the other VTA buses serving Oak Bluffs. “There will be two more buses leaving Ocean Park at 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM on route 13 from opposite Ocean Park to Vineyard Haven. These buses could easily stop on New York Avenue where passengers could walk the remaining two or three blocks to the parking lot,” she said, and added, “That service will also begin on June 20th.”

Who will pay for the service?

Oak Bluffs will be responsible for funding the project. But Ms. Grant said that she is hopeful the state transportation department will assist with some funding. And, given its support of the existing Park and Ride in Tisbury, the Steamship Authority is also a potential funding partner.

Deadline Looms

The VTA needs a final decision on the project within the next couple of weeks if it is going to able to include the information on its summer route map. There is a printing deadline as well as a planning timetable to be met. Michael Santoro, committee chairman and Oak Bluffs selectman, proposed that the issue be decided at the next selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, February 24th. The vote on that motion was unanimous.

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The yellow pins show the approximate area off Eastville Beach where brothers Dan and Greg Martino plan to farm oysters.

Oak Bluffs selectmen met in executive session before their regular Tuesday-night meeting to discuss strategy in the lawsuit filed against the town by seasonal Eastville Beach resident Jacob Ludwig III. Mr. Ludwig’s suit seeks to overturn the town’s decision to grant brothers Dan and Greg Martino an aquaculture license for a two-acre oyster farm off Eastville Beach. The selectmen voted 3 to 1 to formally endorse their findings, a document that clarifies their reasoning for the approval should the case go before a judge. Selectman Gail Barmakian was the dissenting vote, citing concerns that the oyster farm could be hazardous to boaters. Selectman Michael Santoro was absent.

Mr. Ludwig filed suit in Suffolk County superior court on Oct. 15. The complaint alleges that the selectmen failed to conduct a comprehensive review of the project. Additionally, it maintains the selectmen denied the Eastville opponents the right to proper legal representation.

Mr. Ludwig’s attorney, Matthew Rush of the Boston law firm of Sloane and Walsh, asked selectmen to consider a number of conditions to the license so the Eastville residents, the town, and the Martino brothers could develop a “symbiotic relationship.” Mr. Rush asked the board to limit the hours of operation, to set specific standards to prevent odiferous “biofouling,” to set specific pollution standards, to clarify the Martinos’ responsibilities when problems arise, to increase the $5,000 bond, to see drawings of the raft that will be used to work the farm, and to add a clause specifically stating that the two-acre farm cannot expand during the three-year license.

Chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan asked Mr. Rush to put the proposed conditions in writing. “If they are reasonable and can help bring this to a conclusion, I’m interested,” he said.

In other business, Oak Bluffs resident Skip Finley presented selectmen with a proposal to erect a memorial for the late Senator Edward W. Brooke in Nashawena Park. Senator Brooke, a longtime Oak Bluffs homeowner, was the first black attorney general in Massachusetts and the first black U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. Mr. Finley said a nine-member committee will raise funds for the project, solicit input from residents and town officials, and review artist submissions. Selectmen were unanimous in their support of the project.

Selectmen also voted unanimously to accept a $1,000 donation from Dana Mylott to the Niantic Park donation fund and a $100 donation from Holly Alaimo for the Ocean Park donation fund.

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Planning board chairman Brian Packish wants the town to get its money’s worth from the MVC.

Oak Bluffs police will begin enforcing parking time limits on town roadways, including Circuit Avenue. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs selectmen made few decisions at their meeting Thursday night, rescheduled from Tuesday due to the blizzard. However, they took the opportunity to discuss the progress of the strategic plan that the board created in October. The town’s financial health, shoreline and beach improvements, improved communication with residents, improved water quality, and several transportation issues were topics of a lengthy discussion.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said improvement in the town’s financial health was evidenced in the improved bond rating from Standard and Poors. Significant challenges lay ahead, he said, especially balancing the books under the burden of increasing education costs.

Selectmen agreed unanimously that given the increased activity of the planning board and the constraints on town finances, the search for a town planner should be shelved indefinitely. “I think a grant writer is much more important than a town planner right now,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.

“Planning board activity has gone through the roof,” Mr. Whritenour said. “They need administrative support. There’s a lot we can do before bringing in a planner.”
“We’re already paying for a town planner, we’re paying the MVC [Martha’s Vineyard Commission],” planning board chairman Brian Packish told selectmen. “We really need to figure out how much we’re spending for the MVC and what we’re getting for it. There’s a variety of professional services we’ve paid for and we’re not maximizing.”

The most significant development to improve the shoreline and beaches is the North Bluff project, the construction of a seawall and a boardwalk from the harbor to the SSA terminal. Construction should begin this fall, according to Mr. Whritenour. Although $2 million in FEMA funding was rescinded in August, Mr. Whritenour said the $3.6 million grant from the Massachusetts department of energy and environmental affairs dam and seawall fund, and the $1.9 million from the state seaport advisory council, along with cost reduction changes, namely changing the sea wall from concrete to corrugated steel, have enabled the project to move forward.

Improved communication with town residents is being addressed in part with a revamped town web site, which will allow direct communication with town officials and, additionally, be easier for town officials and employees to update. Web site retooling is currently underway.
To improve water quality in town ponds, Ms. Barmakian said, the Lagoon Pond committee, a joint committee between Oak Bluffs and Tisbury officials, is meeting regularly and exploring non-sewering alternatives. She added that sewering around the Lagoon is inevitable to restore the pond standards set by the Clean Water Act. She also told selectmen that shellfish constable David Grunden recently obtained new grant money for the Farm Pond restoration.

Transportation too
Several transportation issues were discussed. Chairmen of the selectmen Greg Coogan said that work to expand bikeways has progressed and that consultants have provided preliminary sketches.
According to selectman Michael Santoro, Vineyard Transit Authority Administrator Angela Grant has been consulted about scheduling and routes for the proposed town park and ride, and details should be finalized by the end of March.

Mr. Santoro also suggested that the board consider placing an excise tax on rental cars. “Only a few of the 200 rental cars are paying excise tax,” he said. “We’re not trying to discourage business, but our roads are taking a beating.”

Ms. Barmakian showed selectmen a petition against downtown parking meters with more than 500 signatures. Selectman Kathy Burton questioned the need for paid parking, noting it was initially suggested when the town was in dire financial straits. Selectman Walter Vail also questioned the wisdom. “It’s not going to be a huge amount of money, and I’m sure we’ll get quite a lot of pushback,” he said.

In other business, selectmen rescheduled the vote to make Canonicus Avenue a one-way street, citing the need for more outreach to the surrounding neighborhood. They will vote on the measure at their meeting Tuesday, Feb. 24.

The board was unanimous in its praise for the work of the highway department and superintendent Richie Combra. Mr. Coogan noted that Oak Bluffs roads were in much better shape than the other down-Island towns. Mr. Santoro complimented NSTAR, and said that the new poles and extensive tree trimming done this summer played a major role in keeping the power on during the storm.
Mr. Whritenour said that damage estimates from the storm are still being completed; however, it appears that the damage to the town was minimal.

— File photo by Susan Safford

Earlier this month the Ocean View Restaurant in Oak Bluffs came under the ownership of Mike Santoro, who owns the Lookout Tavern and Fishbones Grille. Mr. Santoro purchased the restaurant from Ron and Peggy Jackson, who had owned the popular year-round restaurant for close to 35 years.

New General Manager Jennifer Toppin, formerly of the Lookout Tavern, notes that the tried-and-true Ocean View menu will remain intact, with some new additions that were popular at the Lookout, including the Tuesday-night burger special. Now Ocean View customers can enjoy a ½-lb. burger with cheese for $8, or a specialty burger for $10, which includes fries. Customers can still take advantage of the popular prime rib special on Saturdays and lobster night on Wednesdays.

The Ocean View serves a full menu for lunch and dinner daily, including Sundays, from 11:30 am to 10 pm. Their pizza and bar menu is also available until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Ms. Toppin said that the restaurant can accommodate large parties, and is a great option for the sporting groups crowd after a late game, given their reliable late hours.

Mr. Santoro and Ms. Toppin also managed the serving staff at this past Saturday’s Big Chili Contest. “Now that Chilifest is behind us, we’re excited to hit the ground running. It’s already been amazing, and everyone has been so supportive,” said Ms. Toppin.

To the Editor:

A story published Jan. 15, “Oak Bluffs FinCom objects to hike in school assessment,” suggested that the vote of the Oak Bluffs Finance Committee on Dec. 18, 2014, to send letters to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Committee and the All-Island School Committee was unanimous. It was not.

Six members voted yes and two voted no. One member was absent. At the time of the vote the committee did not have budget information for other town departments, so another member and I thought that sending the letter was, at best, premature.

Maura McGroarty

Oak Bluffs

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Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro has asked permission to inspect the Island theater building to determine if it is unsafe. – Photos by Michael Cummo

Late last week, Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro said, he sent a registered letter to Benjamin Hall Jr. of Edgartown, requesting entry into the Island theater. Mr. Hall, a lawyer, represents the Lucky Seven Trust, the hall’s holding company and owner of record for the moribund and deteriorating building that sits at the foot of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Barbadoro told The Times that as of Wednesday, he has not received a return receipt or a phone call from Mr. Hall. “I requested entry to determine if the theater needs to be placarded as an unsafe building,” Mr. Barbadoro said, adding that he has not been inside the theater since he began working for the town in October.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro expects to gain admission soon.
Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro expects to gain admission soon.

“There are three conditions that can render a building unsafe,” he said. “Open and exposed to the weather, which I don’t need entry to make a determination; especially unsafe in case of fire, which I don’t think it is; and structurally unsafe, which right now is a maybe. I don’t want to make their lives difficult, I just want to make sure the building is safe. My objective is to get the building in much better repair by spring. It’s in everyone’s best interest to get it done.”

In an email to The Times on Wednesday, Benjamin Hall Jr. said he was not aware of any letter from Mr. Barbadoro, and indicated that he and his brother and co-owner Brian Hall were in frequent communication with the building inspector.

“The owner has been for some time working closely with the new OB building inspector to get him information he has requested in order for work to be recommenced at the theater,” he said.

Mr. Hall explained that the cease-and-desist order issued last spring by former Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn left the roof in disrepair and the building interior open to the elements, further complicating and delaying repairs. “The only avenue to appeal this order took several months to be heard,” he said. “The State Board voted to reverse the order. Shortly thereafter, the new inspector took over. He has asked for a different series of drawings and the use of construction control to move forward. These have been in process, but I understand there should soon be complete specs and drawings so the repairs can recommence.”

In a conversation with The Times, Brian Hall said he’d been receiving frequent calls from Mr. Barbadoro, and that he’s currently working with engineer Reid Silva to determine what materials will best suit the roof repair. “It’s an old building with a lot of unknown materials, and it’s a complex process for the engineers to determine the best materials that will meet the specs to make it as strong, or stronger, than it was originally built,” he said. “I’m waiting on the certification of that plan so the building inspector will issue the permit for the work.”

Mr. Hall said that there are negotiations with a prospective tenant, whom he declined to name. The tenant will ultimately be responsible for the repairs to the roof, truss, and walls of the theater, but negotiations cannot proceed until the final costs have been determined. “Once I have a building permit with specs of how the job needs to be done, I will give that information to the tenant,” he said.“They need to know what’s required to get the building back into condition before they’ll sign the lease.”

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A chart-topping 180-pound bigeye tuna brought it in at last year's Bluewater Classic.— File photo by Michael Cummo

Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously approved the return of the Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic at their regular meeting last Tuesday. The tournament will be held July 22 to 25.

Harbormaster Todd Alexander told selectmen that last year’s inaugural event was well run and there were no problems. A total of 25 boats entered the tournament last year.  Mr. Alexander said he’d been informed by tournament organizer Damon Sacco, owner of Castafari Sport Fishing, that he expected at least 40 boats to compete this year.

The Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic is sanctioned by the International Game Fishing Association, and will operate on a points system. Species that will accrue points are bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and marlin. Marlin will be catch and release only. Sharks will have no point value.

Selectmen were also informed that last year, the tournament sponsors donated $3,850 to the Island Autism Group and $9,700 to Massachusetts General Hospital for colon cancer research.

“It’s a great substitute from the previous tournament,” selectman Kathy Burton said, a reference to the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, which ended with the accidental death last January of organizer Steve James.