Photo by Peter Simon
McDonald’s Corporation is no longer interested in the old Coop market as an Island location for a fast-food restaurant.
 
But, corporate officials in Westwood, Mass. and Oak Brook, Ill. said this week, the chain’s interest in the Vineyard as McDonald’s country persists, and if a new location is proposed which meets the organization’s requirements, they’ll follow through. Although several Island locations have been proposed by property owners and businessmen, Douglas Timberlake, director of corporate communications in the Illinois headquarters, said Wednesday no new site is under active consideration.
 
The Tisbury board of health decision announced Tuesday evening to a placard brandishing crowd of anti-Mac campaigners and a swarm of off-Island television and newspaper reporters, put to rest the proposal for the Beach Road building, owned by Strock family interests and now the home of Vineyard Natural Foods. The board of health, led by Dr. Michael Jacobs, rejected a preliminary proposal for a sewage disposal works permit, prepared by McDonald’s Corporation engineers for Edward F. Harrington, who planned to buy the handsome two-story, shingled building and lease it to someone who would operate a McDonald’s under franchise.
 
The board of health said that the application was deficient in several ways: it failed to meet state Title 5 requirements for on-lot sewage systems and waivers of those requirements by the board would not be forthcoming; required certification by an engineer showing that the plan could meet flood hazard zone requirements was lacking; the site lies within the board’s special problem district for which a moratorium on the construction of new systems to serve expected big water producers is in force; and the plan, being preliminary, was not a plan that could be formally considered by the board - only final plans get formal action.
 
Finally, a letter the town health officials sent off Wednesday to McDonald’s offices in Westwood, said: “We have no knowledge of any subsurface wastewater disposal system, or arrangement, which would be appropriate to the proposed site.” And that ended that.
 
There were “Whews” on both sides of the sometimes rancorous debate that’s flashed on- and off-Island this fall over Mr. Harrington’s plans. The argument had reached a heated pitch, and retrenchment was in order.
 
Peter Barry Chowka, leader of the No-Mac Committee which has mounted petition drives and letter writing campaigns, attracted national television, radio and newspaper interest in the fight, and filled the board of health office in the Tisbury town hall annex with McDonald’s opponents for each of the two meetings convened over the sewage plans, called the board of health decision a victory. But he was cautious. He said Wednesday, “We won round one last night, and we see round two as continuing the fight against another location.” Mr. Chowka said fundraising would go on, as will the letter writing campaign designed to convince McDonald’s officials that an Island branch isn’t wanted - anywhere.
 
In Westwood, Jack Ochtera, a real estate official for McDonald’s in the New England region, said victory was hardly the right word to use and, he explained, from McDonald’s point of view nothing was lost, because the chain hadn’t asked for anything. It was Mr. Harrington, Mr. Ochtera said, who filed the application, and it was he who was denied. Mr. Timberlake added: “McDonald’s was not specifically involved there. The building wasn’t ours, and we had no agreement or contract with Harrigton.”
 
“As far as I’m concerned the whole thing was beaten to death,” said Mr. Ochtera. He called the turmoil raised in letters and news stories across the country surprising. “It was a sleeping giant, a sensational thing. I had a call from Chicago (McDonald’s corporate headquarters) and they wanted to know what the hell we were doing out here. Stockholders had called wanting to know what was going on.”
 
Mr. Timberlake was on the receiving end of a great deal of that noise in his Oak Brook office. He said Wednesday he’s received 75 to 100 letters from anti-Mac correspondents. “It seems like a lot,” he said, “but it’s hard to tell. No one ever suggested that people write to me before.” Mr. Timberlake said McDonald’s regularly expects some opposition to a plan to open a new outlet, but the campaign mounted by the No-Mac Committee broke form with past experience. He said in the next three to five years McDonald’s will open about 300 domestic and 200 international branches. While their interest in the Vineyard persists they have other irons in the fire.
 
In his New Bedford office yesterday Mr. Harrington, a lawyer and the former mayor of that city, said he hadn’t heard anything formal from the Tisbury health officials. He said he’d wait till he does before deciding on a next step. Mr. Harrington did not keep his appointment with the health officials Tuesday evening. Rotten weather and a late day court appearance at Brockton intervened. He said the health board’s secretary told him the board might go ahead and act without him.
 
Mr. Harrington said he will be interested to see what the state Title 5 health regulation to the board says his plan won’t meet. He might appeal. And he said his intention to purchase the property, listed for sale at $175,000, would have to be renegotiated with the Strock family. He said he has no other interests in Vineyard property but remains attracted to the notion of investing here.
 
McDonald’s opponents were out in force Tuesday evening, despite an unrelenting downpour and the promise that Tisbury officials would enforce a safety limit on the number of persons admitted to the tiny conference room of the town hall annex. Inside were 30 or so No-Mac Committee members bearing carefully made placards which couldn’t escape the notice of the television film crews. Outside were 60 more, dripping, wielding umbrellas, poking heads through the open windows of the hall to join the chorus of delight at the board of health decision. There were nearly as many reporters, photographers, sound men, cameramen, commentators, police and town hall officials as there were spectators.
 
The hubbub Tuesday began long before the evening meeting. That morning as the Channel 4 television film crew prepared to tape an interview with Mr. Chowka in front of the Coop building Edward Krikorian, a Beach Road real estate broker who was negotiating the sale of the Strock building to Mr. Harrington, came upon the scene. There were words, and a scuffle ensued. Mr. Chowka said the next day he will seek a criminal complaint against Mr. Krikorian charging him with assault. The matter now rests with the Tisbury police and the clerk of the district court. A hearing on the issuance of the complaint will be convened shortly. Mr. Krikorian would not discuss the incident.
 
Mr. Ochtera, a Duxbury resident and a frequent visitor to the Vineyard who moors his pleasure boat at the Coastwise Wharf Company pier, said yesterday that McDonald’s expected the proposed sewage plan to be rejected. “We knew after the first time it was a long shot,” he said. “But Harrington had an obligation to try.” He added that the arrangement McDonald’s and Mr. Harrington had was unusual. Normally, according to Mr. Ochtera, the chain does not spend money for engineering work, such as was done on this plan, without a contract.
 
“But we were given wrong information on this. We’re professionals and we do a lot of this work, but we were misinformed by a very good source on the Island, and it cost money and time,” he said. Mr. Ochtera, who said his organization and Mr. Harrington understood before they began that permits would be difficult to get, but the failure of the plan proposal to meet such board of health requirements as the one calling for a professional engineer’s stamp was the result of misinformation from an Island confederate.
 
Mr. Ochtera added that he had had “a lot of feedback” from Island people who wanted McDonald’s to come to the Island. He said a random telephone survey by his office of some of the 1,600 signers of the No-Mac Committee’s petition turned up a large percentage who “didn’t know what they signed.”
 
There is “no question,” he added, that McDonald’s would face up to the opposition again if a promising location presents itself.
 
For the No-Mac Committee, Mr. Chowka said in a published news report: “We have well over $2,000 left for possible legal actions, and we have only begun to fight. But we’re asking McDonald’s to give us a break and announce their plans to give up for good.”