WELLFLEET — A petition bearing 104 signatures may have done what months of complaints about a contractor’s yard had failed to do.
The town will ask the Land Court for a preliminary injunction against the operation by Sept. 26. It would order a stop to all activities at the site at the corner of Route 6 and Old Wharf Road until final decisions have been made in three related suits. The town will submit affidavits from abutters regarding dust, odor, and the health effects of the activities on the site. The court will likely hear arguments sometime in October.
Neighbors have been battling Great White Realty, whose principals are Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro, since the pair purchased the lot and within days cut down three-quarters of the trees, stripped away topsoil, and started grading in January 2021. That prompted a cease-and-desist order from the building inspector. It was upheld by the zoning board of appeals, which also denied two special permits related to the operation.
Great White Realty appealed that order in May 2021. Two further appeals of other enforcement actions have merged with the first, as a debate continues over what constitutes a contractor’s yard.
Attorney Ben Zehnder, representing the DiGiovannis, argued that the town’s zoning allows the use in the commercial district without special permits. Town officials argued the business is closer to a heavy industrial operation, far exceeding the bylaw’s intent.
Meanwhile, GFM Enterprises, a Dennis excavating company specializing in septic systems, leased the property and now operates a satellite contractor’s yard there despite the orders from the town.
There is now a berm planted with shrubbery flanking the entrance on Route 6. But all that separates neighbors from the operation is a flimsy stockade fence at the back of the property.
GFM ramped up business over the summer. “My summer was ruined by the noise over there,” said neighbor Kevin Coakley. The constant noise of earth-moving machinery and the beeping of trucks backing up drove him indoors, he said.
Sanatkumar Tankalwala lives directly across the street from the contractor’s yard. “After they moved in, I was unable to open my windows because of the dust and noise,” he said. Tankalwala said he appreciates the effort to get an injunction. “I hope the town is successful,” he said.
Last January, after the ZBA revoked a permit granted by an interim building inspector in November, the town’s attorney told the zoning board it would likely take an injunction to stop the operation — which would be up to the select board.
Over the next several months, neighbors and ZBA members asked why the town was taking no action. Member Michael Lynch complained that the ZBA was being made “a laughingstock.”
Last week, select board Chair Ryan Curley said his board had expected the ZBA to pursue an injunction. Since that hadn’t happened, the select board decided to do it, Curley said.
ZBA Chair Sharon Inger, however, said her board had been advised by town counsel not to take any further action.
The Sept. 6 petition asks town leaders to enforce the cease-and-desist orders. “The town has an obligation to protect the town’s property owners from harm caused by illegal activity,” it reads. It goes on to say that heavy machinery continues to work with sand, loam, and gravel. As a consequence, abutters and neighbors are suffering from noise, dust, fumes, and vibrations, in violation of local bylaws, the petitioners argue.
The neighbors hired attorney David Reid to represent their position during the various hearings held by the zoning board. “We are glad the select board has decided to take this action and hope the judge will agree to suspend the operation while the three appeals are processed,” said Reid in an email.
In a joint status report to the Land Court, Zehnder said he had completed all filings. If the town wished to have witnesses, he said, he would be ready for trial within 30 days, after taking depositions.
According to the report, the town plans to have up to three abutters testify at the trial along with the current building commissioner and possibly a past commissioner. The town would be ready for a trial by late November.