TRURO — Robert Martin has been given until Jan. 15 to remove the piles of loam, gravel, crushed shells, and other landscaping materials he has been selling in bulk from the lot he leased last January at 100 Route 6.
The stacks of firewood, which has been sold from the site at various times and in varying quantities since 1981, must also go.
The zoning board of appeals voted unanimously on Nov. 6 to uphold a cease-and-desist order served on Martin by the building commissioner in the spring because the landscaping operation violates both federal regulations and local zoning laws.
The property lies within the town’s National Seashore zoning district, where commercial and industrial activities are limited to those that existed before the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961. Such businesses are classified as pre-existing nonconforming uses that can’t be significantly altered or expanded under federal standards. The town incorporated those same stipulations into its local bylaws.
In 1961, a gas station, Jack’s Gas, was the only operation on the site. When the late Richard Aiken bought the property in 1978, he continued the gas station operation, and in 1981 he added the sale of firewood as an ancillary business. Neither the town nor officials at the National Seashore took any action for the next 20 years.
A fuel leak from an underground tank in 1998 put an end to the sale of gas there. Environmental regulators ordered the tanks removed and required the cleanup of the contaminated soil and groundwater. Aiken continued to sell wood and items such as T-shirts, soft drinks, and tourist maps until 2003, when a fire destroyed the station building.
After that, according to a letter then-Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom sent to the ZBA in July, Park Service officials told the Aikens that the sale of firewood didn’t predate the Park’s establishment. They made an exception, however, and did not object to the temporary firewood sales “provided proceeds were used to support the state government cost of cleanup,” Carlstrom wrote.
In his July letter, the former superintendent added that it appeared the temporary authorization for firewood sales was no longer needed to fund cleanup work because the Aikens no longer operated the site.
The Aiken family has leased the lot to a few different firewood sellers over the last several years. Richard Aiken died in 2021, and his son Andrew, who now owns the property with other family members, leased it to Robert Martin in January.
Martin expanded the sale of firewood and added a series of concrete bays filled with landscape materials, which he sold in bulk.
William Henchy, an attorney representing Martin and the Aiken family, frequently voiced objections during the board’s discussion. He disagreed with Barbara Carboni, Truro’s town planner and land use counsel, who told the board it could add stipulations such as a deadline for clearing the lot. Henchy argued that such action exceeded the panel’s authority.
Chair Christopher Lucy, along with the rest of the ZBA, believed a clear deadline was the only way to ensure the job would get done. “What we’ve seen for the past six or seven months is zero enforcement,” Lucy said, “so at this point we’re going to give some kind of direction about when it should happen.”
The board approved 36 “findings” to accompany its vote to support the building commissioner’s cease-and-desist order. They outline the reasons for its decision.
“Both Mr. Martin and the Aiken family are very disappointed in the board’s action,” said Henchy in a phone interview following the vote. “The Aikens believe the board acted mistakenly and has left them with nothing to do with the property except the cleanup.”
During the hearing, Aiken told the board that the fuel cleanup at the site has not yet been completed. His family is also responsible for continued monitoring of groundwater wells. He estimated that the remaining tasks could cost up to $100,000.
The ZBA’s vote supporting the cease-and-desist order leaves Martin with only one course of action if he chooses to continue the fight, which would be filing an appeal in court. Henchy said next steps have not been discussed.