At a packed Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearing last Thursday at the Council On Aging building, White Brothers-Lynch appealed a cease and desist order issued by the Oak Bluffs building inspector against its operations on a piece of property comprised of four residentially zoned lots on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A group of area residents said that the company’s activity has driven them to distraction, and that they could no longer co-exist with the commercial enterprise. Concerned homeowners told the board that dump trucks from the asphalt/concrete/excavating company rumble down their streets with increasing frequency, shaking their houses and posing a threat to their children’s safety.
They said those same trucks unleash shrill beeping noises that shatter the early morning quiet. And in recent years, more and more building materials have been stored on the property, making it an eyesore that creates clouds of dust, and in one instance, emitting a powerful smell of rotting wood chips.
Much of the recent activity was connected to the Lagoon drawbridge project, company representatives said. That project is now coming to an end.
Thursday’s ZBA hearing was triggered by a cease and desist order dated November 16 that Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro sent to company owner Gerry Lynch for using the residentially zoned property to “store or dispose of fill or as a site development business.”
Mr. Barbadoro told The Times on Monday he acted on numerous written complaints. “I was content to decline enforcement at first because when I spoke to [Mr. Lynch] he said he was going to ramp things down, and he was removing fill from the property and taking it to the bridge, so I figured that would make it more conforming. But when I went back, I saw that he was ramping up. There was more fill, granite curbs, concrete drain pipes, and wood pallets.”
The company is currently allowed to continue its operations while the cease and desist order is under appeal. Public comment will continue at the next ZBA meeting on February 18.
Much has changed
Area resident Bill Giordano said much has changed since he built his house on Barling Avenue 20 years ago. “At the time, I didn’t plan on living in an industrial neighborhood,” he said. “The transfer station was there, but since then there’s been the wastewater treatment station and a baseball field, and now they’re talking about putting a park and ride here. That means more traffic. I’ve got three young kids. There’s a lot of kids in the neighborhood. The last thing we need is more traffic.”
Bert Combra, a longtime area resident, spoke passionately about the problem. “I sympathise with all those people,” he said. “People are just fed up. Now they bring in eight trucks, four or five front-end loaders, and bulldozers. They had a mountain [of sand] there, at least 35, 40 feet high. It’s unbelievable, and it’s a residential area. Zoning is only as good as the enforcement of it, and we stink at it in Oak Bluffs,” he said to a round of applause.
Giving a nod to Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro, Mr. Combra said, “This guy’s the first time I’ve seen anybody make a step.”
Mr. Combra was one of many at the meeting who expressed deep respect for Gerry Lynch, owner of White Brothers-Lynch. In 1995, Mr. Lynch bought the White Brothers construction company, a family-owned construction company that began in 1927.
“I think the world of Gerry and I think he’s a fine gentleman, but he’s not going to be around much longer; he’s my age,” Mr. Combra said. When the laughter died, Mr. Combra posed a serious question: “When Mr. Lynch turns the operation to his son or whatever, what happens then?”
Unfair after 70 years
Mr. Lynch told the ZBA that since receiving Mr. Barbadoro’s cease and desist letter, he’d limited truck traffic to one trip a day, five days a week, and cleaned up the place “and made it more agreeable.” He said that the Pennsylvania Avenue properties were only used 31 days in 2014 and 52 days in 2015, with one load of material taken away every day since.
He reiterated that the extreme activity on the property was due to his company’s involvement with the Lagoon bridge, which would soon begin to wane. “There’s a misconception that it’s going on and has gone on and will go on forever,” Mr. Lynch said. He also questioned the complaints about early morning noise. “I don’t think we’ve ever started there before 7:30,” he said.
Edward Kirk, an attorney for White Brothers-Lynch, asked the ZBA for an annulment of Mr. Barbadoro’s cease and desist order. He said Mr. Lynch has also offered to put up additional screening to keep the operation from public view. He also told the board that the property was an integral part of a company that has historically played a key role in Island infrastructure projects, including the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Steamship Authority parking lot, and the Oak Bluffs library.
“This shutdown order would be extremely harmful to White Brothers-Lynch,” Mr. Kirk told the board. “We want to be respectful and mindful of the neighbors, at the same time, the commercial use was in place long before their houses were built. We think it’s unfair that after 70 years of things going along this way, to single out this particular property. We ask you to annul this decision and allow White Brothers-Lynch to continue to operate.”
Mr. Kirk said that specific issues like noise and piles too close to property lines could be addressed. “We’re not seeking a special permit, just to keep using the property as has been used,” he said.
Only one question
“There’s really only one question before the board now, and that’s to see if there’s a pre-existing, nonconforming use prior to 1948,” ZBA member Kris Chvatal said. “If it were allowed, there probably would be more discussion before some board at some point, but we only have one question to answer.”
Owners of legally operating businesses established before Oak Bluffs established zoning bylaws in 1948 are exempt from zoning bylaws.
Mr. Kirk submitted as evidence an article from a construction trade magazine about the history of White Brother’s construction company, which stated the business began in 1947. He also produced a sworn affidavit from Albert White, born in 1928 and co-founder of White Brothers construction, who testified the lots were used continuously for storage or excavation materials well before 1948. An affidavit was also submitted from Mr. White’s nephew Walter “Terry” Eglinas.
ZBA member Joe Re, who ran the meeting, said more concrete evidence, such as aerial photographs, was needed and that personal affidavits were not sufficient to prove the pre-existing commercial use.
Kris Chvatal agreed. “This may be more complicated than some people think. Some lots may have been used as commercial [before 1948] and some lots weren’t.”
He suggested the building department contact the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for aerial photographs of the area prior to 1948. If the evidence proves it was in commercial use before then “we do not have the power to make it stop,” he said.