WELLFLEET — The well-groomed entryway to the GFM Enterprises contractor’s yard on Route 6 may score high for good looks, but the zoning board of appeals wasn’t interested in those aesthetics when it met Oct. 12 to decide whether the operation is allowed by the town’s bylaws.
The board unanimously voted that the use, which members categorized as heavy industrial, isn’t allowed there or anywhere else in Wellfleet.
The decision doesn’t settle the matter, however. It simply sends it back to state Land Court.
The debate between the ZBA and the property owners, Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro, operating as Great White Realty, has been going on for nearly three years. The DiGiovannis bought the wooded wedge at the corner of Old Wharf Road in January 2021, cut down most of the trees, removed the topsoil, and began grading it without getting any permits.
Paul Fowler, the building inspector at the time, issued a cease-and-desist order. Great White and its attorney, Ben Zehnder, appealed the order. Meanwhile, GFM, a Dennis-based excavating company, leased the property from Great White and set up a satellite contractor’s yard there.
The town’s subsequent enforcement actions led to two more appeals, which have been merged with the initial one and are still pending.
The neighbors on Wixom and Old Wharf roads have vehemently opposed the operation but did not join the court case, believing their interests aligned with the town’s.
That changed in February when the neighbors’ attorney, David Reid, learned that the Wellfleet Select Board had reached a settlement with Great White and submitted it to the judge for review.
The neighbors complained they had been left out of the negotiations, which were conducted in closed sessions. And they opposed some of the concessions the town made, including a go-ahead for GFM to store sand, topsoil, gravel, and T-base on the site in large bins piled up to nine feet high.
The properties on Wixom Road are directly behind the GFM yard; a stockade fence separates the operation from the neighborhood.
In June, the judge sent the case back to the ZBA, which led to the board’s Oct. 12 hearing.
“The judge asked us how we would define a contractor’s yard,” chair Sharon Inger said. “We were asked, ‘Do we believe this is within the scope of how we define a contractor’s yard?’ ”
While a contractor’s yard was among permitted uses in the commercial and commercial 2 zones at the time it went in (town meeting made it a prohibited use in 2022), the operation would still have to comply with other sections of the zoning bylaw. One provision requires that noise, dust, vibration, and similar nuisances must be contained on the property.
“In the last two-and-a-half years, the zoning board, the building commissioner, and the select board have received hundreds of complaints from neighbors about the noise of the machinery and the operation on that site,” attorney Reid said. More than 60 more letters came in from neighbors after the Oct. 12 hearing was announced, Reid added.
The site hasn’t yet become fully operational, Reid said. “If you allow this, there’s going to be more people, more trucks and equipment, and tons more material that’s got to be uploaded from big trucks into these bins, and then scooped out of the bins and put back into dump trucks to be driven off to other sites,” he said.
Besides the six-foot stockade fence, screening would include Leyland cypresses planted about 15 feet apart. “It would take 10 to 12 years for those plantings to form a hedge barrier,” Reid said. “These so-called buffer protections are worthless.”
Laura Kozak said she wants to sell her Wixom Road house and move to an independent living complex. But she fears GFM’s operation will make her property hard to sell and reduce its value. “The noise level is unbearable,” she said.
Other neighbors told the board GFM is operating seven days a week and sometimes starts up before 6 a.m.
Attorney Zehnder argued the problem isn’t that the operation is offensive, “it’s that these residents live near a commercial zone. I understand people don’t like it,” he said. “The question becomes, ‘Where do you put it?’ ”
The answer might be nowhere. ZBA member Mick Lynch said the contractor’s yard was put into the bylaw’s table of uses in the 1970s to allow businesses like local contractors or landscapers in the commercial district. “The difficulty I have with this particular project is I believe it’s heavy industry, which isn’t allowed in town anywhere,” Lynch said.
The operation is “too extreme,” said ZBA member Wil Sullivan. “None of the complaints that the abutters have are going to be remedied by the draft agreement that was presented to the court. It just can’t be done. For that reason, I would suggest we just reaffirm our prior votes.”
The board voted unanimously to reaffirm its denial of permits for the operation. It then voted unanimously not to allow bulk storage on the site.
Following the hearing, Reid said the case will now return to court, where a date will be set to consider the neighbors’ motion to intervene.
Reid called the decision “one more strike” against Great White’s appeal. “I think it will be harder for them to succeed now,” he said.