Home business article a detriment to Oak Bluffs

0

To the Editor:

There are seemingly modest changes proposed in the bylaws related to Section 3.2.4 (“Home Businesses” as of right) and 3.2.5 (“Home Businesses” by special permit) at Oak Bluffs town meeting. This matter appears as Article 49 on the warrant on April 9. Once everyone has a better understanding of the implications of these changes, you will conclude that they are anything but modest. They are wrong. Due to so many other critical decisions that voters must make, this little-known bylaw has flown under the radar. It is time to elevate its standing and give it a platform. Vote no on Article 49.

What is at stake is nothing short of the character and reputation of our town and its neighborhoods, our quality of life, and the devaluation of our residential properties.

The changes are meant to give fair consideration to the needs of Oak Bluffs business owners in this environment of booming development, which is creating the need for many new and expanded businesses to service the whole Island. As you will read, these changes are not the answer.

The current language allows for a “resident owner” to be granted a home business permit. The language is intentional. It does not mean “resident” or “owner.” The property owner must own the business and live at the address. There are several other criteria, all of which must be met. Giving that right to a renter without the public’s opportunity to fully vet the permit criteria, density considerations of commercial vehicles on residential streets, and guardrails to protect against creative ways being used to avoid compliance is not wise. 

The town already has an impediment of limited staffing to monitor complaints and enforcement. Renters would require even more monitoring. Growth rates are projected to continue. Fairness demands that additional personnel be assigned to monitor and enforce the town bylaws. Given the acknowledged expense and inadequate spaces for overnight parking of commercial vehicles, these bylaw changes would manifest themselves in residential streets experiencing a deluge and proliferation of commercial vehicles in driveways overnight. 

In addition, the proposed language to allow by special permit the weight of commercial vehicles parked at residences overnight to increase to 26,000 pounds would further degrade the residential neighborhood. By special permit, the proposed new weight ceiling for the vehicles would reach a threshold that would then include large landscaping equipment. 

If you review the town’s application for a “Home Business” on the town’s website, you will see four spaces where the commercial vehicles can be listed. A special permit is required for more than two. There is also a reference to five parking spaces, and an allowance for at least one sign. A careful reading of the “home business as a right” bylaws, compared with the proposed new special permit language, points to an official shift in how our residential neighborhoods are valued. To put this into perspective, a conventional school bus — Type C — weighs between 19,501 to 26,000 pounds (per reference.com). A small bulldozer weighs 24,251 lbs. (per cat.com). Those sites have other examples of large construction equipment and vehicles at 26,000 lbs.

Much more timely dialogue among stakeholders is required to create solutions and best practices. Property owners have a vested interest in maintaining the beauty and character of our neighborhoods. Whether or not a homeowner is a year-round resident, the property taxes support the services and amenities we all enjoy. We must continue to be mindful and inclusive of every aspect of our community fabric. I have attended many hearings on zoning reforms and bylaws, and I am sensitive to many of the challenges of our locally based businesses. However, rule changes to help assist one group cannot, even unintentionally, upend the rights of others. Article 49 must be defeated.

Managing the Island’s burgeoning construction and business growth needs cannot be disproportionately borne by the town of Oak Bluffs. Oak Bluffs cannot become the Island’s commercial vehicle parking lot. Please come out to vote on April 9, and vote no on Article 49.

 

Vivian C. Beard
Oak Bluffs