Superior Court judge orders action on Island Theater

Owners have three weeks once building permit is issued.

A Dukes County Superior Court judge has ordered the owners of Island Theater in Oak Bluffs make the building safe as quickly as possible after a building permit is issued. - File photo

Attorneys for the town of Oak Bluffs and the Hall family have agreed on a stipulated preliminary order to make the Island Theater safe, and to do it quickly.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty approved a stipulated preliminary order that mandates the Island Theater be made safe within three weeks of building permit issuance.

The judge did not mince his words.

“I did take time to read the papers about this case,” he told Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport and Hall’s attorney, Kevin Cain. “It raises some serious issues of public safety.”

The order stipulates that Ben and Brian Hall, co-owners of the derelict building, “use their best efforts to expedite commencement and completion of the construction of internal wood framing … and all repairs necessary to address the unsafe conditions specifically identified by the plaintiffs within three weeks of the issuance of a building permit.”

The order also states that the court will be given a written status report on or before Wednesday, May 24, outlining the work to be done, the identities of all contractors, and the estimated completion date.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro and the board of selectmen are listed as plaintiffs on the order.

Mr. Barbadoro told The Times he has not issued a permit yet.

“We have to determine if there is asbestos before we can issue a permit,” he said. “We’re testing right now, and should have the results by end of day Friday. If there isn’t asbestos, that’s a big hurdle out of the way.”

Friday was Mr. Barbadoro’s last day on the job before he heads off to become the building inspector for Fitchburg. The permit will eventually be issued by Thomas Perry and Eladio Gore, recently retired building inspectors from Barnstable and Falmouth, who are working as interim building inspectors until Mr. Barbadoro’s replacement is hired.

Mr. Rappaport credited Mr. Cain for helping break the longstanding logjam.

Judge Moriarty said Mr. Cain did not have to appear before him next week to present the status report, with one caveat. “Let’s put it this way; if it hasn’t been done, I think you do, so we can have, on the record, the reason why,” he said.

“The town’s sole concern is public safety,” Mr. Rappaport said after the ruling. “We think we have an order which will accomplish getting the theater stabilized, and also, I might add, having the front painted. That doesn’t involve public safety, but I think people will be happy about that.”

A board of survey assembled by Mr. Barbadoro officially declared the Island Theater “dangerous,” in a unanimous 3-0 vote, on Dec. 2. The vote gave Mr. Barbadoro the authority to order the building demolished, per state law. Mr. Barbadoro has told selectmen at several public meetings that the state inspector has expressed concerns that the building could collapse. “This isn’t a joke. It isn’t a spite issue,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve had the smartest engineers I could find tell me the building could collapse. The state inspector is very concerned. He wanted a timeline, and he’s got one now.”

As of Wednesday, a building permit had not been issued, and results from asbestos testing were not yet available, according to the building department.

This is not the first case involving Judge Moriarty and the Hall family. In November 2015, the judge sentenced Ben Hall Sr. to 90 days in jail for contempt after he failed to make a payment deadline in a long-running civil case. “The time for legal shenanigans is over,” he wrote in his sharply worded decision.