EASTHAM — The old Nickerson Service Center property on Route 6 in North Eastham took a bashing at the select board’s Aug. 31 meeting, as the board considered the idea of proposing a new town bylaw to discourage blight.
“I would drop the whole discussion if Nickerson’s disappeared,” said board member Arthur Autorino. “It seems that we have three or four properties in town, Nickerson being the most prominent, that are an eyesore. You drive right through our town and you see Nickerson’s and we don’t seem able to come up with what we need to do to get that eliminated.”
Autorino had sent the other board members a copy of Quincy’s blight bylaw for consideration. “Would it be appropriate to put as a goal to create an Eastham bylaw on blight in the next year?” he asked.
“I hear what you’re saying, Art,” said Chair Jamie Demetri. “For me, the difficulty that comes in with ‘blight’ is it’s subjective. You don’t like Nickerson’s and I get it. There’s a lot of people who don’t.” (Demetri, who formerly used the surname Rivers, has returned to the use of her original name.) She suggested that the board set discussion of the issue as a goal instead.
Board member Jared Collins acknowledged that he was often asked by residents when the town would do something about the property. “I hear that all the time, too, regarding Nickerson’s,” he said. “Something does need to be done, and I think that’s part of a larger discussion we should have at some point. If not for Nickerson’s and T-Time, we wouldn’t be discussing this at all.”
The former T-Time golf driving range is a similarly vacant and boarded-up property, just up the road from Nickerson’s. It was purchased by the town last year; a study committee is considering possible uses for it.
Built in 1939 by Arthur Nickerson, the service station at 4515 State Highway, at the corner of Oak Road, was home to Nickerson Auto Body until 1976, after which Nickerson’s son Scott took over the property. Scott ran Nickerson Service Center until it closed in 2013, he said Saturday. The property was acquired in 2015 by J. Bruce MacGregor of Brewster through his Sunrise Nominee Trust, according to Eastham assessors’ records.
The building is mostly boarded up, with an old truck and two racks of firewood sold by the honor system out in front.
Demetri described watching a couple from New Jersey buying firewood and taking pictures in front of the building recently. “It was kitschy and unique to Eastham,” she said. “It makes me think there’s a reason Eastham is Eastham. Not every town is going to look like Chatham.”
“Jamie, excuse me,” said Autorino. “I’m not saying the town needs to look like Chatham. I’m saying that’s a major eyesore in this town, and I don’t think its kitschy and I don’t think it’s cute. You can disagree and say, ‘I like the way Nickerson looks,’ but I think you’d be in a very small minority of the residents in town.”
MacGregor told the Independent on Tuesday that he was not aware of the select board’s discussion of his property. He said “I can understand” why some townspeople consider it an eyesore, and added, “I have plans to do things down there. I wouldn’t have bought it if I didn’t like the location.”
He said that a moratorium on development of the North Eastham corridor had delayed his plans for the property. “That took a while to work through,” he said. “After that, they changed the zoning, so some of the uses changed.”
MacGregor said he had been in talks with other local businesspeople about developing the property.
“They wanted to do something that would appeal to people buying and selling houses,” he said. “Things are booming for the people who can afford to do things. But there’s a lot of people who can’t afford to.” He declined to say who those discussions were with or what business venture was on the table, adding, “I just want to see what happens through this coming winter with the virus. We have no idea what it’s going to look like come February or March.”
MacGregor is an owner of a variety of businesses and properties in Provincetown, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, South Yarmouth, and Hyannis.
Eastham Select Board member Aimee Eckman told the Independent that MacGregor had been “quite responsive” when asked by the town to address issues such as broken windows at the former service station. “They’re not violating any bylaws now,” she said.