Tisbury zoning inspector says no to coffee and burrito crowd ban

In allowing the courtyard, the Tisbury zoning board of appeals stipulated it remain available for public use. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Business owner Chris Sze put up a sign last week outside the entrance to SweetE’s, next to Bob’s Pizza on Vineyard Haven’s Main Street. The sign’s message prohibited the use of the outdoor seating area at the front of the property by the coffee-swilling and burrito-feasting public.

But, vigilant Tisbury zoning inspector Ken Barwick told him the sign had to go.

Mr. Sze’s sign, on a dry erase board outside the entrance to SweetE’s, formerly known as Vineyard Scoops, read, “Seating is Reserved for Customers ONLY! (No burritos, No Coffee!) Thanks, Bob’s Pizza & SweetE’s!”

Mr. Sze told The Times that when he arrives to start work at his two businesses, SweetE’s and Bob’s Pizza, around 7 or 8 am, he often finds non-customers seated at the picnic tables, outside on his property, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and eating food that he doesn’t sell. He said many of them don’t bother to acknowledge his presence as he sweeps up the litter around them.

“I don’t mind people relaxing, but I don’t want to clean up after them,” Mr. Sze said.

Tired of picking up cigarette butts, unfinished cups of coffee from Mocha Mott’s across the street, and shreds of lettuce and chunks of tomato that dropped from burritos made at La Choza down the block, Mr. Sze said he decided to put up the sign to grab the offenders’ attention.

Someone in the community noticed the sign and called Mr. Barwick about it. The zoning czar said he checked town records first, to look at the zoning permit.

“The permit was issued to Bob’s Pizza, care of Chris Sze,” Mr. Barwick said in a phone conversation with The Times around 9:30 am on Monday morning. “Condition number four, on special permit case number six-hundred ninety-four, says, ‘The outside seating area shall continue to be open to the public at all hours.'”

Mr. Barwick explained that although the outdoor seating is on property owned by Mr. Sze, the general public, no matter where they purchase food or drinks, has always used the area.

“When Mr. Sze bought the property from Bob Clark, a condition of the zoning permit was that the outside area would remain open to the public at all hours, as it had been historically,” Mr. Barwick said. “I took the liberty of making a photocopy of Bob’s Pizza’s special permit, which I read to Mr. Sze and asked him to take the sign down. When I went by there in between a couple of appointments last Saturday, the sign had been taken down.”

Despite Mr. Barwick’s edict, the sign was back up on Monday. A Times reporter stopped in SweetE’s around 10 am to ask Mr. Sze why.

“We love people stopping by in front, sitting and relaxing; I don’t have an issue with that,” Mr. Sze explained. “I put the sign up to get people’s attention. Every morning when I arrive, I have to pick up a lot of trash that people leave. This courtyard is an extension of my business, and they abuse it.”

In addition to litter left in the courtyard, some people dump extra trash that overloads the receptacles on Mr. Sze’s property. He said he then has to empty them more often and pay more for trash collection.

Late Monday morning, Mr. Barwick made a return visit to make sure Mr. Sze’s sign was still down. In a phone conversation afterwards with The Times, Mr. Barwick said when he saw it was up again, he grabbed a rag, wiped the words off the board, and told Mr. Sze it should not appear again. Mr. Barwick was not unsympathetic to the frustrated business owner’s plight and stayed a while to discuss some possible solutions with him.

“I told him to talk to John Bugbee, the town administrator, and the selectmen about the possibility of adding another town trash container on his property to help him with the litter problem,” Mr. Barwick said.

“Mr. Sze has no problems with people sitting down there; he’s just looking for people to pick up after themselves,” he added. “I gave him a copy of the zoning permit and told him that in addition to discussing the issue with Mr. Bugbee, if he wants to change the condition on the permit, he could go back to the zoning board of appeals.”

In a phone conversation with The Times after Mr. Barwick’s visit, Mr. Sze said the sign would not go up again and that he had already called Mr. Bugbee.

“He said maybe the town would start by putting one more trash can outside and also a recycle bin, and take the problem step by step,” Mr. Sze said. “I love this town. They always try to fix the problem. And I’m trying to find some kind of solution, too.”

Mr. Sze said he went into partnership this spring with Ezra Sherman, who opened the SweetE’s cupcake shop a few doors down at 18 Main Street last year. Over the winter Mr. Sherman closed his shop and moved the cupcake operation into the front corner of Mr. Sze’s Vineyard Scoops store, which for years has sold ice cream, fudge, and candy. Mr. Sze said they decided to use the SweetE’s name for their new combined venture.

The new arrangement works out much better for Mr. Sherman, Mr. Sze said, since the cupcakes are now baked next door in the ovens available at Bob’s Pizza, instead of off-site.