WELLFLEET — Not since the Dunkin’ Donuts brouhaha of 2012, said zoning board of appeals chair Sharon Inger, had she seen a ZBA audience so large or so passionate as the one that gathered online on March 25.
That evening the zoning board was considering an appeal by the Great White Realty Group (GWRG) to overturn Building Inspector Paul Fowler’s order that it stop work at 1065 Route 6, the commercial lot at the corner of Old Wharf Road that was stripped of trees three months ago.
The ZBA unanimously upheld Fowler’s decision. It continued discussion of GWRG’s application for a special permit to its meeting on April 8.
Great White Realty is run by Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro. They were represented at the March 25 public hearing by attorney Ben Zehnder.
On Friday, Jan. 8, GWRG closed on the $392,000 purchase of the heavily wooded 1.3-acre commercial parcel just north of Van Rensselaer’s restaurant. The next morning, clearing and earth-moving work began; by 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon, Wellfleet Planning Board Chair Gerald Parent told the Independent, 1065 “was stripped of almost every tree.”
Inspector Fowler noticed the newly clear-cut lot on Jan. 11 and — after meeting with Steve DiGiovanni — issued cease, desist, and abate orders for violating two town zoning bylaws requiring permits (“…no use of land or building shall be begun or changed without a permit having been issued”) and prohibiting open bulk storage.
Attorney Zehnder argued that the DiGiovannis had acted within their rights as land owners.
“There were no violations by the applicant in cutting those trees down,” he said. “Anybody who owns property in Wellfleet, as long as the property’s outside either a conservation buffer zone or a scenic byway, can cut down trees on your property.”
Both Fowler and Inger said that was wrong.
“I think Ben’s being a little disingenuous,” Inger told the Independent. “He knows this is against the rules. But he’s got a client, and I get that.”
Zehnder also appealed Fowler’s determination that GWRG’s proposed use of the property requires special permits. His client, Zehnder said, plans to use 1065 Route 6 as a satellite operation for GFM Enterprises, a South Dennis-based excavating company. GFM would store two one-ton dumps, two 10-wheel trucks, a loader, skid steers, and “other material on trailers” onsite, Zehnder said.
Those operations would make the property “nothing more and nothing less than a contractor’s yard,” Zehnder insisted, which requires no special permits in Wellfleet’s commercial district.
But Fowler said that, in fact, operations at the site — like the loading and unloading of excavation materials — exceeded the definition of a contractor’s yard. So did, he said, the presence and use of tracked machines onsite.
And generally, said Inger and other board members, the plan that Zehnder, the DiGiovannis, and GFM’s Greg Morris presented to the ZBA was “inadequate.”
“We don’t really know what they plan to do,” Inger said.
Fowler’s ruling that a special permit was required was also upheld unanimously.
GWRG’s application for a special permit was continued for two weeks because attorney David Reid — who represents a group of Old Wharf Road residents and neighbors — could not attend the March 25 meeting.
Reid’s clients, however, still made themselves heard. Seventeen Wellfleet residents spoke in the hearing’s first hour, and ZBA members read three letters aloud. Noise pollution, water contamination, property values, and traffic safety were the four most-cited areas of concern.
Two of the speakers supported the DiGiovannis’ application.
After an hour of comments from the public, Zehnder remarked that he had not had to deal with such “hysteria” since his first marriage. “I used to tell my wife,” he said to the virtual crowd on Zoom, “just because you’re mad doesn’t mean I did something wrong.”
The cease-and-desist order at 1065 Route 6 remains in effect. With no work allowed on the property, the lot looks the same today as it did in mid-January: a barren stretch of yellows and browns, plus three piles of fill and a scraggle of trees lining Old Wharf Road’s frontage fence.
“If somebody’s upset about this operation,” said Zehnder in an interview after the hearing, “then maybe they should have looked at the zoning map before they bought their property.”