TRURO — Although they put off a formal vote until Nov. 6, members of the zoning board of appeals made it clear at an Oct. 23 public hearing that they plan to uphold a cease-and-desist order issued last spring by the building commissioner on Robert Martin’s Route 6 landscaping operation because it violates federal regulations as well as local zoning laws.
When the late Richard Aiken bought the property at 100 Route 6 from Diana Worthington in 1978, the summer resident, Episcopal minister, and classical singer also became a gas station owner. Jack’s Gas, which had been there since the 1930s, was within the boundaries of the Cape Cod National Seashore, but because it was there before the Park was established in 1961 it was allowed to stay.
A lot has happened on the property since then. A leak in an underground fuel tank in 1998 put an end to the gas station. State environmental officials ordered the tanks removed and required cleanup of the contaminated soil and groundwater. Aiken continued to sell items other than gas until 2003, when a fire destroyed the building.
After that, according to a letter former Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom sent to the ZBA in July, the Aikens were told the sale of firewood didn’t predate the Park’s establishment. But the Park Service made an exception and did not object to temporary firewood sales “provided proceeds were used to support the state government cost of cleanup,” Carlstrom wrote. The family went on to lease the lot to a few different firewood sellers over the years.
Aiken died in 2021. After his son, Andrew, who now owns the property, leased it to Robert Martin in January, the firewood stand grew larger.
In the spring, Martin leveled the lot, cleared some trees, and installed concrete bays to hold large piles of mulch, loam, gravel, and crushed seashells, which he added to his offerings.
Martin made those changes without getting the required permits. “I didn’t think what I was doing was a problem,” he said in a phone interview after the zoning board hearing.
In addition to upholding the cease-and-desist order, town planner and land use counselor Barbara Carboni told the board, it could order Martin to clear all the material off the lot by a specific date and direct the building commissioner to levy fines if Martin fails to comply.
Commercial and industrial uses that predated the establishment of the Seashore were allowed to continue as nonconforming uses — but only as long as they aren’t expanded or altered.
“I’m doing what’s aways been done there,” Martin told the Independent. “There’s just more volume.”
Martin had also claimed last spring that his business did not represent a change of use. But Carlstrom wrote to Truro officials in April that Martin’s operation was greatly expanded from past uses and violated federal zoning standards for the Seashore.
Building Commissioner Richard Stevens served Martin with a cease-and-desist order on May 3. Martin appealed the order to the zoning board, which held a two-hour hearing on the matter on Oct. 23.
While the board postponed its official vote to Nov. 6, it was clear that members agreed that Martin’s operation violates zoning laws. The delay allows Carboni to work on a list of findings to make the decision defensible if challenged in court. “If you don’t put in findings for why you uphold the building commissioner, you’re asking for it to be overturned,” she said.
“If they were so clear on what they wanted to do, why couldn’t they come up with findings?” Martin said.
Representing Martin and the Aiken family at the hearing, attorney William Henchy reviewed the history of the property.
“It’s our view that uses have been, since the beginning, retail,” said Henchy, noting that items like tourist maps, T-shirts, cold drinks, and frozen Milky Way bars were sold there for decades. “It was an early version of what are now convenience marts.”
Zoning board member Arthur Hultin disagreed. “To try to make a landscape company look like a general store is a big stretch,” he said.
Andrew Aiken, who lives in West Hartford, Conn., attended the online hearing. He said the sale of firewood on the lot began around 1980, with tree-length logs being cut and split onsite. Henchy provided photos of the site showing huge piles of stacked wood.
Aiken said the family has leased the property for the last several years to help cover the cost of the fuel cleanup, which is not yet complete. He estimated the remaining work will cost at least another $100,000.
Asked during the hearing whether he was running a wholesale business, Martin characterized it as retail, saying there were no18-wheelers coming in and out of the property. He conceded he got requests from time to time for five yards of a product, which he would load into his truck and deliver. Five yards is about seven tons of material.
Board member Darrell Shedd said he considered the sale of landscaping materials a violation under the town’s zoning. But he suggested the board allow Martin to continue selling firewood as a compromise.
Carboni cautioned the board that this wasn’t a matter calling for compromise. Its charge, she said, was to determine whether or not a use violated zoning, which caused Shedd to reconsider and decide selling wood was also a violation.
In her written analysis, Carboni said the original gas station was the principal use of the property, and other uses were accessory. “Without a principal use, there can’t be accessory use,” she wrote.
While members agreed that the storage and sale of the landscape materials violated zoning, a few continued to support the sale of firewood. The board must settle that issue and include it in its decision, the town planner said.
There were a few heated moments. Select board member Robert Weinstein accused Henchy of being disingenuous for using a photo he took of current conditions from far away, while the comparison photos from the past were close-ups. “The photo he presented was taken more than 100 yards away from the bins and the offending disruption behind the bins,” Weinstein said.
“I’ve practiced for 40 years,” Henchy replied. “I don’t think I’ve ever been called disingenuous.”
At the meeting, Martin argued that material in the zoning board’s packet said the only activity allowed in the Seashore District, other than those that were pre-existing, is the storage of equipment related to commercial fishing and food trucks.
“So, I could have 10 food trucks lined up there, and that would be permissible?” he asked.
On the phone, Martin said he will abide by the board’s decision but added that he then might do what the regulations allow, storing fishing traps, boat trailers, fishing nets, and other equipment along with some food trucks.
“If they thought it was an eyesore before,” Martin said, “they’d better close their eyes when they drive by.”