WELLFLEET — The town was shocked a year ago when Great White Realty Group, owned by Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro, with no permits in hand, cleared their newly purchased 1.38-acre parcel on Route 6 at Old Wharf Road to make way for GFM Excavating to open a contractor’s yard there. Although one town building inspector issued a cease and desist order on the clearing, which the DiGiovannis are fighting in court, a later inspector gave Great White and GFM clearance to commence operations.
For now, at least, officials’ hands are tied. GFM is using the site as a satellite for its Dennis operation, storing 10-wheelers, a loader, skid steers, large outdoor containers, precast risers, and piping there.
The question of whether the operation can continue is now being played out before the zoning board of appeals and in a case already pending in Land Court. Meanwhile, planning board members are looking to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
The planning board blames the situation on a too-vague bylaw allowing Great White to argue that, despite the size of GFM’s operation, the use is permitted by right — that is, with no special permit needed.
The planning board has scheduled public hearings for Feb. 16 on two options for the town to consider.
The first would change a contractor’s yard from its current status as a by-right use in both the Commercial and Commercial 2 (or “C2”) districts to a use that would require a special permit from the ZBA.
The DiGiovanni-GFM operation is in the Commercial district, which provides for “small and moderate-scale business development for local and transient service, at the same time preserving or enhancing ocean views from highway, preserving or enhancing landscaping, minimizing visibility of parked autos, and avoiding creation of hazards or congestion,” according to the town’s zoning bylaw.
Planning board chair Gerald Parent says requiring special permits for contractor’s yards is an approach that “still puts tremendous pressure on the board of appeals” because of the limited reasons, such as noise and congestion, that it could use to nix such a proposal.
He proposed a second option at the planning board’s Jan. 12 meeting, suggesting the town could change a contractor’s yard from being an allowed use to one that is not allowed.
“It makes anyone with a contractor’s yard already a pre-existing use,” Parent said, while preventing new ones from being created.
The resulting moratorium, Parent suggested, would give the planning board time to rework provisions in the zoning bylaw and return to town meeting in 2023 with some new requirements for such businesses.
Parent said he’d like to see both measures on the April annual town meeting warrant, with the temporary moratorium as the best choice, and the special permit requirement as a backup position.
Both proposals would require town meeting approval; in the meantime, no new contractor’s yard proposals can be introduced once the public hearings on the changes are advertised, said Parent. The special permit hearing was advertised on Jan. 14 and the proposed removal of the contractor’s yard from the bylaw is set to be advertised on Jan. 21.
The planning board can decide whether it will submit the proposals to the annual town meeting, based on input from the public hearings.
The board unanimously supported Parent’s proposal to remove contractor’s yard from the list of allowed uses — and the moratorium it would create.
“It would allow more time for deliberation,” said board member David Rowell. “We can look at the whole bylaw rather than just jump to a special permit.”
Beth Singer agreed. “I think it’s brilliant,” she said. “It’s the right solution.” But Singer predicted heated opposition at the hearings.
Bonnie Shepard said she looks forward to hearing what opponents of a temporary moratorium give for their reasons.
“I expect on Feb. 16 we’ll have a full house,” agreed Parent. “There will be heat, there will be discussion, and that’s what we need.”