Mopeds are back in business in Oak Bluffs.
On Tuesday afternoon, selectmen voted unanimously, 3-0, to grant a waiver of the training track requirement to the three moped rental businesses in town, at an emergency meeting at town hall. The vote is the culmination of 10 months of heated debate at public meetings and extensive litigation. It also flies in the face of public opinion — in this year’s elections, each of the six towns overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding referendum to ban mopeds.
The vote was made after an executive session with attorney Michael Goldsmith. Selectmen Gail Barmakian, Mike Santoro, and Greg Coogan voted to grant the waiver. Selectmen Brian Packish and chairman Kathy Burton were absent.
After the vote, Jason Leone, owner of two of the three businesses and co-owner of the third, told The Times he intends to open this weekend. He handed out purple-and-white bumper stickers that read, “You Are on the Vineyard, Slow Down” which he said he had printed as a goodwill gesture.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Leone said he was too busy preparing for this weekend to comment to The Times.
Selectman Michael Santoro said after the meeting that the board was not going to file an emergency appeal, but will leave the right to appeal open. “To me, it’s now a matter of enforcement,” he said. “We’ve spent so much money and time on this, we have other things to deal with.”
Todd Rebello, a former selectman who has been a spokesman for Mr. Leone at public meetings since last fall, said he was motivated to help because of the precedent the waiver denial set in the business community. “It was the wrong pathway to address this,” he said. “We don’t pick and choose what businesses we allow in Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs businesses support Oak Bluffs businesses. We have a very vibrant business community because we support each other.”
Mr. Rebello, also an owner of downtown businesses, said he had “zero financial interest” in Mr. Leone’s businesses. “My only interest is to make mopeds on the Island safe,” he said.
“The selectmen tried to do the right thing,” Nicole Brisson, co-founder of the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC), said after the vote.
“MADAC succeeded by bringing the issue into the light. Ninety percent of the Islanders voted to eliminate mopeds. It’s up to them and the police and the selectmen to stay vigilant. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ the next accident happens, it’s a matter of ‘when.’”
State statute stymies selectmen
The board appeared to have little choice in the matter after last Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty, which granted an injunction on their May 9 vote to deny the test track waiver. The board’s main objection was that the businesses — Island Hoppers, King of Rentals, and Ride On Mopeds — were endangering public safety, in part by using busy town roads as test tracks for mostly inexperienced drivers.
But in the judge’s six-page decision, he ordered the board to issue a waiver of the training track requirement so long as “the businesses [are] otherwise qualified.”
Town bylaw states that a moped rental business must have a 25- by 50-foot test track on the premises, or get a waiver from selectmen by providing alternative safety training. Despite a 15-year history of granting the test track waiver, this year selectmen voted unanimously not to grant it.
New Bedford based–attorney Philip Beauregard, representing Mr. Leone, had told the court that the selectmen’s denial would cause his client “irreparable harm,” because according to town bylaw, if his license was not renewed this year, it would be permanently forfeited.
Judge Moriarty apparently agreed, writing, “This Court is persuaded that denying the plaintiffs’ requested injunction will cause the plaintiffs to lose their businesses.”
Mr. Beauregard also argued, as attorney Kelly Malone had done several times before, that local bylaw could not trump state law, which he asserted the selectmen had done with the waiver denial. Judge Moriarty agreed, saying there was “sharp conflict” between town bylaw and state statute, which states, “Every person operating a motorized bicycle upon a way shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth.”
“In my view, the Bylaw impermissibly frustrates the rights immanent in the statute and, at least in so far as a large segment of the general public in [Oak Bluffs] is concerned, effectively overrules [state statute],” he wrote.