Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday unanimously voted to take legal action against the Alliance Community Church on Ryan’s Way in response to mounting evidence that the church is violating town zoning laws and several conditions of approval from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
Two years ago the commission approved plans from the Assembleia De Deus (Assembly of God) Nova Vida congregation to build a 150-seat church on the site with a day care center for 26 children. The church has since changed its name to the Alliance Community Church.
Construction on the new church never started, save some new fencing; religious services are held there regularly. Last June the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital moved its child day care center into the first floor of the building and plans to keep it there until the new hospital building is completed.
Meanwhile neighbors have complained the property is being used to store landscaping equipment and possibly as some type of rooming house. Town building inspector Jerry Wiener issued a cease and desist order two years ago that prohibited the building from being used as a landscaping business or a boarding house.
Town administrator Michael Dutton told selectmen this week that church officials appealed the cease and desist order in court but later dropped the appeal. As a result, he said the order is still in effect and town counsel has recommended that the town go back to court to seek an order of compliance.
Mr. Dutton said he also spoke with planners at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission who said the church may be in noncompliance because it failed to begin construction within two years.
Selectman Ron DiOrio questioned whether the building may have other violations. “I don’t know if we need to alert the department of education or the department of human services . . . but there would seem to be rules and regulations about a day care center and a rooming house sharing the same building,” he said.
In other business, selectman Kerry Scott raised concerns about NSTAR Electric spraying herbicides on power lines around town.
Mr. Dutton said he checked with NSTAR who confirmed they have been spraying in an attempt to control invasive plants around power lines. Mr. Dutton said the state board of utility regulation approved a five-year maintenance plan allowing NSTAR to spray using herbicides.
NSTAR is required to alert the selectmen and conservation commission and also post a notice in a local newspaper. The notice was not posted in either Island newspaper, but did run in the Cape Cod Times, which stopped home delivery and has limited circulation on the Island these days. “They have acknowledged it’s ridiculous it didn’t run in [an Island newspaper],” Mr. Dutton said.
Selectman Duncan Ross reported that the Army Corps of Engineers has opened a 30-day public comment period for the dredging project in Sengekontacket Pond, signaling that the project may now move ahead. Mr. Ross, who is also chairman of a joint Oak Bluffs and Edgartown committee overseeing improvements to the pond, said the dredging may now be able take place this winter. He said the town continues to explore the possibility of selling some of the sand harvested during the dredge to a private homeowner association.
Selectmen also discussed the draft Island Plan with Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London and several members of the Island Plan steering committee.
The most comprehensive planning document ever drafted for the Vineyard, the plan was created with the assistance of dozens of steering committee members and public testimony gathered at dozens of informational meetings over the past two years.
Selectmen lauded the plan, but said the difficult part starts now.
“Now we have to ask: how do we implement this?” board chairman Greg Coogan asked. “You can say: that’s a wonderful idea, now how do we pay for it? All of these things have dollar amounts attached.”
Steering committee member Richard Toole agreed and suggested that the Island towns work together to put the plan in place.
“Implementation is the key word here. I think the best way for people to realize this might be a good idea is to look at the current situation and realize what is going to happen if we don’t change things,” he said.