Vineyard Grocer will have to stop serving prepared foods, at least temporarily.
On Tuesday night, in a meeting that lasted more than three hours, the Tisbury select board heard from town administrator Jay Grande that the store finally had its fire suspension system installed, operational, and inspected.
At issue was a common victualer’s license that the board first started discussing at a public hearing May 18. At that time, the board learned that Vineyard Grocer owner Elio Silva had never obtained that permit to sell prepared foods. With the fire system not ready to be inspected, the board stopped short of making a conditional approval at the time on the advice of then-Fire Chief John Schilling.
The board continued the public hearing several more times, and then Tuesday showed their frustration with Silva, who wasn’t present at the Zoom meeting.
“We gave them two years to straighten out a fire safety issue. It’s just unfathomable,” selectman Jeff Kristal said.
Board members Larry Gomez and chairman Jim Rogers agreed.
Kristal made a motion to approve the common victualer’s license, then surprised his colleagues by voting no. “There was a fire right behind that building,” he said. “We have a hard time getting these people to the table to talk about anything. Business owners should be readily available to talk about anything … These owners need to be present.”
Select board member Larry Gomez joined him. “I was hesitant to say no, but I will say no because this is one way to prove a point,” he said.
Chair Jim Rogers also voted no, and said Silva could exercise his right to appeal.
“Oh, that sucks,” a stunned Silva told The Times as he learned about the board’s vote for the first time Wednesday morning. “I think it’s somewhat racist.”
Pressed on whether he really felt it was racist, Silva said, “How many other businesses are they shutting down? That’s how I feel.”
He went on to say that both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are doing more to help businesses hurt by the pandemic. He pointed out that a request he made for a spot to be set aside for curbside pickup at his Main Street business was denied. “I’ve been in business my whole life. I don’t see problems. I only see challenges. It’s a big deal. I know my rights, and I’ve done everything. They’re putting a burden on me. They should have made an example out of the landlord, and not me.”
Silva said it should have been the landlord’s responsibility to put in the fire suppression system, but he did it at his own expense.
Kristal, responding to Silva’s comments, said the decision is not about race. “I don’t know how it would be racist,” Kristal said, reiterating that the issue has lingered for three months since the initial public hearing, and noting the proper system hasn’t been in place for two years.
Asked why he voted to deny the license now that Silva’s complied, Kristal said it’s about process. “Communication is the big key here,” he said. “The town has communicated with business owners, and everyone has responded in a timely and responsible manner.”
Asked why he wasn’t on the Zoom call, Silva said he “f___ed up” and thought the hearing was last week. He didn’t realize it was on last night’s agenda.
Silva said he plans to appeal, and will put the matter in the hands of his attorney.
Kristal said he would urge Silva to contact Grande instead, to see how the issue could be rectified without lawyers involved. It’s unclear what the appeal process is.
In an email, Grande said he’s unsure of the appeal process because it’s the first time a board has ever rejected a common victualer’s license.
Shellfish, sewers, and finance committee
Members of the board also expressed frustration that the state Division of Marine Fisheries rejected one aquaculture farm on Lake Tashmoo that is proposed by Noah Mayrand, and then made an impromptu visit to a site on Lagoon Pond that’s been licensed to Jeff Canha, but hasn’t yet been turned over to the state for review.
Mayrand’s site was rejected because of the presence of eelgrass, shellfish constable Danielle Ewart told the board. She said state regulators were also concerned with how close the proposed area is to transient boats that anchor overnight at Tashmoo.
“She said that’s a no-go,” Ewart said of the woman in charge of reviewing the permit site. She said Mayrand would have to reapply, though it was unclear if he would have to start from scratch.
Members of the board scolded Ewart for not alerting harbormaster John Crocker to the state’s visit. “I’m surprised you didn’t let him know this was happening … You’re jeopardizing profitable business,” Gomez said. “We have to move faster and let these businesses operate.”
Board members insisted that Ewart and Crocker work together with the applicants to find a way to move these projects forward.
An exasperated Canha said he’s spent $10,000 toward his aquaculture farm that’s licensed in the Lagoon, but a dispute with an abutter remains unresolved.
“It’s been nine months now,” he said. “Because of this delay, it’s affecting other aspects of my life …”
Rogers said he understood Canha’s frustration, and reiterated that the board wants to see these projects move forward.
Crocker was also asked to give an update on the Tashmoo pumpout boat, which nearly sank July 9. At a meeting last month, Crocker said it was a combination of a faulty bilge pump, a retrofitted boat with an outboard engine that was too big, and having too much “stuff” in the holding tank. Crocker is having the bilge pump fixed and a high-water alarm installed in the next few days, but it has not been done yet.
Lynne Fraker, a local mariner, criticized the timeline. “Why does it take so long for a simple repair?” she said.
Tisbury doesn’t have a town mechanic, and the harbormaster doesn’t have one under contract when services are needed, something Grande said needs to be rectified.
For now, boaters are being offered pumpouts at Owen Park by the P.U.- E II, and Crocker has put red tape lines to make it clear to crew members when the pumpout boat should be emptied.
“We’re trying to do it so it’s obvious to the operator when the boat needs to be pumped out,” he said.
Gomez praised Crocker for doing that, and instituting a report that needs to be filled out twice a day.
Meanwhile board members also asked Crocker to consider a way to empty the Tashmoo pumpout boat without traveling to the harbor to dump it into the sewer. Rogers pointed out the possibility of an accident and spilling waste into the harbor.
Pumpout services are free to boat owners. The town does receive some reimbursement from the state through the Clean Vessel Act, Crocker said. The idea is to provide the incentive so boaters won’t foul the water by illegally discharging.
Boat waste wasn’t the only waste discussed. The select board got an update from Mark White of Environmental Partners on the town’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan. Essentially, Environmental Partners is attempting to help the town figure out what it wants to do to increase flow, between an expansion of the system, which could cost $15 million to $30 million, or use of alternative systems.
“It’s not whether you need more treatment capacity, it’s how much,” White told the board.
The board voted 3-0 for Kristal to act as the liaison with the consultant.
White told the board Tuesday’s session was essential in providing direction over the next 10 months as they develop a scope of work.
In a joint meeting with the finance and advisory committee, the select board interviewed four candidates to fill three vacancies — Dan Seidman, India Rose, Kelley Metell, and Allan Rogers.
Two of the candidates demonstrated how small the town is — Metell is the wife of DPW director Kirk Metell, which presents inherent conflicts of interest, and Rose is the daughter of finance committee member Laura Rose.
“This is a much bigger conflict, nothing personal, Kelley,” Laura Rose said. “[Kirk’s] got a big job, and he oversees a lot of finances and a lot of people’s jobs. It would behoove us to be very careful moving forward with putting Kelley on the committee.”
Kristal said the potential conflicts are not enough to discount Metell as a member of the committee. She’d need an ethics commission determination and to file a disclosure, he said.
Metell is a teacher with no committee experience; Seidman is an investment advisor who has served on the planning board and other committees; Rose is a business consultant; and Rogers, no relation to Jim Rogers, is a retired manager of industrial distribution centers.
The finance committee will meet and deliberate to make a recommendation for appointments, to be voted on by the select board August 25. Finance committee members are typically elected, but when there are vacancies, they are filled by votes of the finance committee and the select board.
In other business, Grande told the board the Beach Road construction of the shared-use path planned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to begin in the fall. Utility work in September will likely disrupt traffic flow on the busy roadway that joins Tisbury and Oak Bluffs. More extensive construction won’t begin until after Columbus Day, Grande said.
Rogers updated the committee on the school building committee’s progress on Tisbury School. He said the committee wants input from parents on the $56.7 million plan that’s been chosen to work with and potentially pare down, but it’s difficult to get them to Zoom meetings. He suggested the selectmen hold a meeting at the town’s Emergency Services Facility with the garage doors open and chairs set up socially distantly to see if that might work for a future building committee meeting. What wasn’t discussed is that indoor gatherings are currently limited to 25 and under, by order of Gov. Charlie Baker, and the building committee alone is made up of nine members.