WELLFLEET — The zoning board of appeals has revoked the authorization given by an interim building inspector last fall for an excavating company to operate a contractor’s yard at the corner of Route 6 and Old Wharf Road.
That action, taken at a Jan. 27 hearing, effectively shut down the operation, but the town will likely have to secure a court injunction to make sure the ZBA’s decision is enforced.
The zoning board’s action is the most recent taken by town officials in an ongoing conflict involving the property owners, neighbors, and the town over the use of the land at that location.
The parcel is owned by Great White Realty Group, whose principals are Donna and Steve DiGiovanni of Truro. The couple bought the site in January 2021 and immediately removed most of the trees and stripped the topsoil.
The work was done in anticipation of leasing the site to GFM Enterprises, which is based in Dennis and specializes in excavation for septic systems. GFM is owned by Jennifer and Gregory Morris of Harwich.
In a photo taken on Feb. 6, the GFM Enterprises sign has been removed from the lot stripped by the DiGiovannis last year to create a contractor’s yard. (Photo by Nancy Bloom)
GFM planned to run a satellite contractor’s yard on the Wellfleet property. As part of its operation, GFM has been storing dump trucks, 10-wheelers, a loader, and skid steers on the site, along with supplies like outdoor containers, piping, and precast risers.
Their plan was abruptly halted by the town’s then-Building Inspector Paul Fowler, who issued a stop-work order shortly after the site was stripped. When the owners’ attorney, Ben Zehnder, appealed Fowler’s action to the ZBA in the spring of 2021, 100 residents called in to protest the plan, citing concerns ranging from dust and noise to safety issues and traffic snarls.
The ZBA upheld Fowler’s stop-work order as well as his determination that the proposed uses of the property required special permits. The board then denied Great White Realty’s request for those permits.
Great White subsequently filed suit to overturn the ZBA decisions. That suit is pending in state Land Court.
Fowler resigned in July and the project remained on hold until November. Attorney Zehnder requested authorization for operation of a contractor’s yard from the interim building inspector, Victor Staley. Staley gave his approval in mid-November for GFM to store vehicles, equipment, and supplies on the lot.
Not long afterward, GFM hung up a sign, moved in equipment, and began to operate. Residents then filed an appeal with the zoning board to overturn Staley’s authorization and shut the operation down.
During the Jan. 27 hearing, residents complained about the experience of living near GFM’s operation. “They were there today, and my house was shaking, my dogs were barking, and it was very loud,” said abutter Patricia Lemme. “The dishes were rattling and the floors were jumping up and down. It’s not how I expected to live in my home.”
Halina Brown, who has lived in the area for 30 years, told the board that Great White had come in the night last year, on a weekend, and clear-cut the woods. “There was something so merciless about it, I just can’t get my head around it,” she said, adding that the company has “no regard for the neighborhood.”
National Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom submitted a letter of concern saying proposed tree buffers were inadequate and the use of the property was too intense.
Attorney David Reid, who spoke on behalf of the neighbors, said the proposed buffer will consist of Leyland cypress planted at 15-foot intervals. “They will meet and form a barrier in about 12 years,” said Reid, calling the buffer “almost useless.”
Land use attorney Lewis Wise lives on Sea Oaks Way just off Old Wharf Road. The issue is easily resolved by reading the town’s zoning bylaw, he said. Under Section 5.2, both by-right uses and those requiring special permits in the town’s commercial zone cannot be offensive or detrimental to the neighborhood due to “dirt, dust, glare, odor, fumes, smoke, gas, sewage, refuse, noise, vibration, danger of explosion or fire, traffic congestion,” he said.
When the question was put to a vote, all but one ZBA member agreed that Staley had been in error when he authorized GFM’s operation. The authorization was therefore revoked.
Manny Heyliger, a builder who cast the dissenting vote, argued, “It’s in an area where it’s permitted.” If it was causing problems, the building inspector, as zoning enforcement officer, could address them, Heyliger said.