No scenic drive on East Chop this summer

Oak Bluffs selectmen impose regulations on tours, and say yes to beer fest.

After East Chop Drive in Oak Bluffs took a beating in March, selectmen have voted to keep it closed to vehicles. —Gabrielle Mannino

East Chop Drive will remain closed to cars and trucks, but the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen stopped short of making the scenic street off-limits to pedestrians and bicycles.

At the board’s meeting Tuesday, selectmen heard a report from its coastal engineer recommending that the street, which is in peril due to a bluff battered by storms, remain closed between Brewster Avenue and Harrison Avenue.

“The coastal bank is inherently unstable, and if left as is, will continue to erode and slough,” Carlos Pena of CLE Engineering wrote. “The current condition of the upper slope requires the travel restriction to be increased …”

Because opening the road to those points would force traffic onto narrow dirt roads, the board decided to keep the road closed.

The board’s unanimous decision came after a lengthy public hearing where more than a dozen people spoke out in support of keeping the road, which overlooks a bluff, closed. Several audience members doubted that bikes or pedestrians would deal a fatal blow and cause more erosion.

“I can’t imagine that me riding my bicycle is going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Steve Auerbach said.

Fred Hancock added that there are “bluff deniers,” so opening East Chop Drive for the summer, as selectman Michael Santoro mentioned as an option, would give a false sense of security.

“To me it doesn’t make sense to reopen in the summer,” Hancock said. “It leads people to believe there is no problem.”

No one spoke in favor of reopening the road, even with the one lane that’s been the norm in the recent past.

The road has been closed since March after it was ravaged by the four nor’easters in March. Last month, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved emergency repairs to the fragile coastline.

Selectman Michael Santoro read the report from Pena, but none of the board members was convinced that bikes or pedestrians were a threat to cause more erosion. The town’s highway superintendent, Richie Combra Jr., will work with public safety chiefs on how to provide them access to the street for emergencies, and on signs to warn the public about the fragile bluff.

“Because to me it’s such an extreme recommendation to the extent that it also includes bicycles and pedestrians, we should have an engineer here, because I have a bunch of questions,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “Is it because they’re contributing to the erosion? Or is it because you just want to keep people off the banks? Is the bank about to fall in? Are you protecting people from falling in? If so, what about the houses?”

Selectman Brian Packish said the town should take the recommendation of its professional engineer, at least in keeping the road closed to vehicles.

“I don’t want to get into a situation where we have the scene from ‘Jaws’ where we let everybody swim when we knew there was a shark,” Packish said.

Regulations set for tours

Selectmen voted unanimously to create new regulations for how tour companies will use parking spaces near the Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs after a season of complaints last summer.

Tour groups will be issued licenses for $600, and if they are found in violation, they can be fined $300 for a first offense and have a license revoked for a second or third offense.

The regulations were based on meetings with tour companies and the police department at a problem-solving session.

Each tour company will be designated a single space, which will avoid the complaints of one company taking up several spots. Companies that previously leased spots will be issued a license instead. The spaces will be set aside for tours from 8 am to 6 pm, and after 6 pm those spaces will be available to the public. No hawking will be allowed. Concerns were raised last summer about one company that had a staff member dressed as a lobster to attract customers.

A form has been created for complaints, said Sgt. Michael Marchand, who was the point man for the police department on the regulations.

While Barmakian pointed out that the town would be losing some revenue by eliminating the leased spots, Packish said there is a benefit beyond the money. “The management of those spaces … was starting to outweigh any financial advantage we were getting,” he said.

Chairman Gregory Coogan said it’s worth giving the new regulations a shot to avoid what happened last year. “The stakeholders and police are saying let’s take the chaos and try to organize it,” he said.

Later in the meeting, selectmen delayed action on issuing a business license for Land and Wharf Co., saying they want to know the outcome of the company’s process with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission first.

Principals Caleb Caldwell and John Tiernan met with selectmen along with their attorney, Jay Theise. Last summer, selectmen approved a temporary business license for 90 days with conditions of screening of its vans parked on Lime Street, designated parking spaces for pickup, a maximum of four vans, proper attire for drivers, and observance of sign regulations.

Packish pointed out that the screening never occurred.

Caldwell acknowledged that, saying another solution was considered, but never followed through on.

Barmakian criticized the company for not going to the commission sooner: “Why didn’t this get done?”

In other business, selectmen approved a business license for Toccopuro, a coffee shop planned at 45 Circuit Ave., contingent on town administrator Robert Whritenour and Barmakian consulting with the building department.

Apparently, owner Min J. Kim was misled. He was initially told he could run the shop with just a counter, but later told that he had to have tables or it would be considered fast food, which is not allowed on the Island, town administrator Robert Whritenour said.

Kim added two tables as instructed, but that can’t happen because there is no capacity for the projected flow for the town’s wastewater treatment plant, Barmakian said.

“Once you put seating in, it’s a different designation,” she said.

Packish said the town needs to do what it can to make it right.

“What really bothers me most of all is that they’ve moved through this process in every capacity and invested accordingly in our town and at the final moment here we are,” he said. “Based on the circumstances, we have to make this work.”

In a 4-0 vote, with Santoro abstaining because he owns restaurants, selectmen approved the 2018 Martha’s Vineyard Craft Beer Festival with little discussion, just one year after the board made organizers come back for multiple meetings because of problems during the 2016 event.

The board even allowed the beer festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 22, to have a rain date of Sept. 23. This year, the event will also have a reduced-priced ticket that allows people to get in without purchasing a “tasting” ticket.

“Just because we’ve been so quick with you this time, it’s only because you did a good job last year, so don’t screw it up,” Coogan said.

Whritenour and Bill McGrath updated selectmen on the town hall project. Whritenour showed off some new renderings of the proposed building, and McGrath said that bids from general contractors are now due May 16, and a contract will likely be awarded the first week of June. Meanwhile, the temporary town hall is taking shape, with plumbing and wiring being installed this week, McGrath said. “They’re very nice inside,” he said, an upgrade from the existing town offices.

And while Coogan completed the night as chairman, Barmakian will be the board’s chairman moving forward. Packish is the board’s new vice chairman. It is tradition for boards to reorganize at the first meeting following a town election. The board also welcomed Jason Balboni to his first meeting with advice from Santoro to give himself “15 extra minutes at the supermarket,” and from Barmakian to “have wine ready.”