WELLFLEET — Neighbors of a contractor’s yard at the corner of Route 6 and Old Wharf Road have asked the zoning board of appeals to reverse an interim building inspector’s decision to allow the business to operate there.
A hearing on their request to overturn Victor Staley’s November authorization is set for the zoning board’s Jan. 13 meeting. A half dozen neighbors, represented by attorney David Reid, filed the appeal; they include Christine Woods, Patricia and Antonio Lemme, Ashley Burns Keefe, and Laura Kozak of Wixom Avenue, and Sanatkumar and Shilaben Tankalwala of Old Wharf Road.
Whatever the outcome of this week’s hearing, the case is likely to end up in court, where there is already a pending suit related to the contractor’s yard.
Staley, who is now Wellfleet’s alternate building inspector, said Monday that he has already begun to receive complaints from neighbors about noise and vibration caused by heavy equipment on the site.
The neighbors’ alarm about use of the site began when Great White Realty Group, a then newly formed company owned by Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro, cut down three-fourths of the trees on the lot, removed topsoil, and began grading on Jan. 9, 2021, the day after closing on the purchase of the property.
The DiGiovannis had no permits for the work, done in anticipation of leasing the site to GFM Enterprises, an excavating company based in Dennis that specializes in septic systems.
GFM has begun using the site as a satellite contractor’s yard. As part of its operation, GFM is storing dump trucks, 10-wheelers, a loader, and skid steers on-site, along with supplies like outdoor containers, piping, and precast risers.
After the land was cleared a year ago, the town’s then-Building Inspector Paul Fowler issued a stop-work order. And when the owners’ attorney, Ben Zehnder, appealed that ruling to the ZBA, nearly 100 residents called in to the meeting to protest Great White Realty’s plan. Concerns ranged from dust and noise to safety issues and traffic snarls.
Fowler said the work being conducted constituted “quarry, sandpit, gravel pit, and soil stripping,” which is prohibited in the commercial zone where the site is located.
The ZBA upheld Fowler’s order as well as his determination that the DiGiovannis’ proposed uses of the property required special permits. The board then denied Great White Realty’s request for the permits.
But Great White Realty susequently filed a suit, currently pending in state Land Court, to overturn the ZBA decisions.
Activity on the property was on hold until November. Fowler had left his position when interim Building Inspector Staley gave his permission in mid-November for GFM to run a contractor’s yard, storing its vehicles, equipment, and supplies on the lot.
A request to have supplies like stone and soil on-site, which the town maintains requires a special permit for bulk material, has been put on hold by Great White.
GFM has put up its sign, moved in its equipment, and created two access points from Route 6, according to Staley, who said he believed the state had authorized only a single curb cut. He expected that issue, along with the neighbors’ complaints, to be discussed by the ZBA at its hearing this week.
The abutters’ attorney, David Reid, did not respond to calls or emails for comment. Two of the abutters, Christine Woods and Laura Kozak, did respond but declined to comment.
Revising the Bylaw
While the planning board is not involved in this dispute, its members hope to address what they now see as a deficiency in the town’s zoning bylaw that allowed such a major operation to open without any special permits required.
Planning board Chair Gerald Parent warned his panel that Wellfleet could become “the Wild West,” with other contractors opening similar operations after seeing what was happening at 1065 Route 6.
“As long as I’ve been dealing with zoning, I never ever envisioned the intensity of that contractor’s yard and what it’s going to do,” said Parent at the planning board’s Jan. 5 meeting. “In my mind, if that hole is not plugged quickly, that could happen again, not only in the commercial district but in the C2, which is mostly residential.”
Wellfleet’s C2, or Commercial 2, district provides for “small and moderate-scale business development,” according to the town’s zoning bylaw.
The problem, Parent said, is that “a piece of equipment, to a landscaper, is a lawn mower,” while “for a contractor in an excavating business, it’s a 40-foot tractor and an excavator.”
An initial easy fix would be to upgrade the use chart in the bylaw to require a special permit for a contractor’s yard, Parent said.
The board voted to hold a public hearing on the proposed change some time in February so that voters could act on it at the April annual town meeting. Once that’s done, the planning board could take some time to add “a little meat and potatoes” to the definition of a contractor’s yard, said Parent.
If a special permit is required in the future, the ZBA would be the board to act on it and attach conditions. According to Parent, Staley “felt as a building inspector, this would have taken a tremendous burden off him for decisions.”