Here's the trade. A moped dealer who controls two rental outlets in Oak Bluffs is offering to shut down one moped shop. In exchange, he wants town officials to hand him a liquor license and a sewer permit for a new restaurant near the harbor.
Last week, selectmen voted 4-0 with one abstention to give Mark Wallace the seasonal, all-liquor license, but one selectman is questioning the whole deal, arguing that the moped license Mr. Wallace is offering to relinquish isn't even valid.
"If he intends to give up a license, great," said selectman Roger Wey. "But if he doesn't have a license to give up, that's another thing."
According to Mr. Wey, the moped license was never renewed in 2001 and may have been illegally transferred when Mr. Wallace and his brother, Michael, sold two moped dealerships to Colin Young. Selectmen say town counsel is investigating the validity of licenses for at least two moped rental businesses in town. Town bylaws state that "licenses not used during one year's time shall be null and void."
Neither of Mr. Young's two dealerships, Harbor Bike and Moped and Porthole Mopeds, had current licenses last year, according to selectmen's assistant Alice Butler, who pulled up the files last week.
The dealership that Mr. Wallace is willing to put on the chopping block is Porthole Mopeds, and while the business is owned by Mr. Young, Mr. Wallace is the the landlord.
"That's the one moped shop, in terms of risk and return, that I can afford to do something different with," said Mr. Wallace, who discounted the selectmen's scrutiny of the business licenses.
"That's murky water," he said, adding later that his proposal is a "win-win" situation that could be duplicated by other moped dealers in town.
In the aftermath of last July's moped carnage, selectmen have vowed to reduce the number of mopeds rented in their town and to improve the safety record. A 30-year-old Virginia woman was killed and five days later a 60-year-old Florida man was left with serious brain damage after moped accidents in July.
But despite the rhetoric and energy devoted to mopeds at board meetings this winter and despite the fact that moped season is just a few months away, selectmen have submitted nothing for the annual town meeting warrant dealing with mopeds. Selectmen also promised to call a meeting with moped dealers to talk about the lack of training tracks, but that never happened.
Last week, there was more talk as selectmen weighed whether it was good policy to give preferential treatment to business owners in exchange for fewer mopeds in town. Selectman Todd Rebello, who had led the board in calling for better enforcement of moped regulations, said there would be "tremendous public benefit" to such a deal.
If Porthole Mopeds were to shut down, there would be 71 fewer mopeds licensed in Oak Bluffs. If Mr. Young's other dealership were closed, that would reduce the total by another 80 mopeds.
Oak Bluffs is home to seven of the Island's eight moped rental dealerships, licensing 539 mopeds. Mr. Wallace's own dealership, Ride On Mopeds on Lake avenue, is licensed for 120 mopeds.
At one point in the meeting, selectmen toyed with the notion of enforcing the town bylaw and simply revoking Mr. Young's licenses for failure to renew last year.
"If we perceive both licenses as being forfeited, then we accomplish our goal. We just got rid of a lot of mopeds," said selectman Richard Combra.
That suggestion provoked a sharp reaction from Mr. Wallace and set off a pointed exchange. "You're taking someone's livelihood away. That means someone gets hurt, and there's pain," said Mr. Wallace. "After 20 years here, that's not how I expect to get treated."
Mr. Combra shot back: "Pain is inflicted every summer with the rental of mopeds in Oak Bluffs. Incredible pain was inflicted last summer."
But despite the passionate statements, other selectmen urged the board not to link Mr. Wallace's request for a liquor license with the issue of mopeds. They said that Mr. Wallace and his brother Michael's plan to turn a 3,000-square-foot building into a restaurant with a bar would be a welcome addition to the harbor.
"It will be an incredibly nice-looking property," said selectman Ken Rusczyk.
"These are two separate issues," said Michael Dutton, chairman of the board. "To the extent that this improves the downtown area, I'm not at all willing to stop this project."
Mr. Wey urged other board members to wait a week before making a decision so the board could hear feedback from town counsel on the matter of the moped licenses. "There are too many unanswered questions," he said.
But when Mr. Combra moved that the liquor license be approved, the board agreed, with only Mr. Wey abstaining. Mr. Dutton said later that Mr. Wallace will have to come back to selectmen for a business permit for his restaurant plan.
And Mr. Wallace still needs to go in front of the wastewater commission to ask for approval for increased sewer flow. Town policy states that the board can allow only a three per cent increase in commercial wastewater flow per year.
As for the concept of trading moped licenses for other town permits, Sam Feldman, the founder of the Mopeds Are Dangerous group, said that the plan has merit only if a long-range goal is clearly in view.
"If it reduces mopeds by just 10 per cent, that wouldn't be very effective," he said. "But if there's a long-range scenario to change lower Circuit avenue into a restaurant mecca and eliminate a large percentage of the mopeds on the Island, we would be in favor of it."