Oak Bluffs acts on fire chief, food truck, construction delays

Selectmen ordered work halted at 57 Circuit Avenue as of June 14. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs selectmen met Tuesday and unanimously appointed John Rose as acting fire chief. Mr. Rose will handle the fire chief’s duties in addition to his position as chief of the Emergency Medical Service.

Mr. Rose has been handling some fire department duties since Chief Peter Forend requested in April that he not be reappointed to the position.

Selectmen interviewed Mr. Rose and two other candidates with long records of service with the fire department, firefighter James Moreis Jr. and emergency management director Peter Martell.

Following a brief discussion and vote to appoint Mr. Rose, selectmen offered praise for the other candidates and called for unity in the department.

“I think everyone should realize how passionate the three candidates were,” selectman Michael Santoro said. “Every candidate came up with some solutions. Morale needs to be improved, they need to work together, bring back integrity, more training, bring the companies together instead of individualism. Even though each one of them had passion for the position, leadership is very important. We already have someone in the position, John, who is demonstrating those qualities.”

Selectman Kathy Burton said she based her decision on the person she thought was most appropriate for the job at this time.

“I wish I could appoint three acting fire chiefs,” Ms. Burton said. “I received multiple, multiple messages and phone calls saying people are going to quit if this person is appointed, people are going to quit if that person is appointed. I can’t base my decision on which people are going to quit.”

The town has hired a consultant to evaluate the fire department command structure and make other recommendations. That process could take most of this year.

“The acting chief will be in position for an indefinite period of time,” chairman Walter Vail said. “We’ll probably be with an acting fire chief for about six months.”

Construction confusion

Also Tuesday, selectmen ordered contractor C&J Hunt Construction to stop work on a renovation project at 57 Circuit Avenue by June 14. The former Oyster Bar Grill is slated to house an Edgartown National Bank branch and office space.

Selectmen said they have received numerous complaints about noise, trucks, and blocked passageways that impacted nearby businesses. Several of those business owners spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting. Among them were David and Marguerite Cook, who own The Good Ship Lollypop, a popular candy store open year-round at 61 Circuit Avenue. David Cook said on Memorial Day a contractor’s truck blocked the entrance to his store.

“I came to work, I didn’t even open up, there was no way we could open up,” Mr. Cook said. “I kept my mouth shut for five months, because I was told it would be done by Memorial Day Weekend. Now we hear it’s going to be three months longer.”

Contractor Charles Hunt assured town officials the sidewalk in front of the construction project, demolished during renovation, would be rebuilt for the holiday weekend. That was delayed, and at the meeting Mr. Hunt assured selectmen the concrete sidewalk would be finished this week.

Mr. Hunt asked the selectmen to continue construction for 2.5 weeks to finish the outer facade, then continue work inside the building through the summer. He said he anticipated about 90 days work to complete the project.

“My understanding, I’ve been in communication with the building inspector, I’ve been told for two months that as long as we’re working inside, there is no problem,” Mr. Hunt said. “I’ve made multiple requests to the building department to get a copy of the statutes involved.”

Selectmen said the board has a policy dating back to 1992 prohibiting renovation in the downtown area after June 1. They said they have enforced the policy consistently.

“This is a very dangerous precedent,” Ms. Burton said. “We can’t really stray from this policy if we don’t with everybody else.”

Food fight

In other action, selectmen took no action on a request from Oak Bluffs businessman Bill Coggins to rent space he owns at 16 Circuit Avenue to Irie Bites, a food truck, and also to a portable retail stand. Mr. Coggins purchased the lot, which sat vacant for many years, after town meeting voters declined to appropriate $220,000 for the town to acquire the land and turn it into a small park. He is co-owner of Bill & Ben’s Chocolate Emporium, which abuts the lot.

Attorney George Davis, representing Mr. Coggins, said retail food establishments are permitted under zoning laws.

“The only constraint you could have over this is the license,” Mr. Davis said. “There are no existing bylaws that would allow you to restrict this. There is no state law that would allow you to restrict this.”

Selectmen decided to seek an opinion from the town’s attorney.

Town administrator Bob Whritenour has compiled proposed rules to regulate food trucks in the town, but selectmen declined to discuss them. The proposed rules would prohibit food trucks in the downtown area, or any residential property, whether on public or private land.

Mr. Coggins accused the board of stonewalling his proposal, which he said he presented to town officials even before he completed the purchase of the lot.

“We’re just not going to rush into anything that changes the face of the town,” Mr. Vail said.

“There’s no basis for denying the basic operation,” Mr. Coggins said. “You can’t arbitrarily make up a rule. It was backdoored and stonewalled, and I consider not voting today the same thing, stonewalling.”

The board did grant permission for a business called Pick a Pearl to operate from a portable retail stand on the lot. The business offers imported oysters to customers, and opens them to find pearls of various shapes and sizes, then makes jewelry from the pearl.

The business formerly operated at the Eastern States Exposition, also known as “The Big E,” a large agricultural fair in West Springfield.