Goodale Construction can continue to mine its property for sand and gravel without special permitting from the town, following a vote of the Oak Bluffs board of appeals.
At a public hearing Thursday night the board voted unanimously not to regulate the sand and gravel pit, overturning an order from the town building inspector requiring the company to apply for a special permit.
Mining for sand and gravel has taken place on the property since before zoning laws were enacted in 1948, but since then houses have settled the region around the plant.
As the Goodales exhausted mining opportunities on the southern and eastern limits of their 100.2-acre property, work has begun in areas closer to the neighborhoods, inciting concern from abutters about noise, dust and visual impact of the mining operations.
In a letter to owner Jerry Goodale this spring, building inspector James Dunn ordered the company to apply for a special permit after he found that the sand and gravel operation had exceeded its nonconforming use.
Goodale Construction appealed the ruling to the zoning board, claiming a grandfathered right to continue work on the property without a permit and disputing the claim that the use of other parts of the property qualifies as an expansion.
On Thursday the zoning board sided with the Goodales, citing evidence that pit operations have not substantially changed or increased.
“I believe it’s the same use since 1948,” said zoning board chairman Andrea Rogers. “They have continued to do the same business.”
Board member Joe Re agreed with her.
“The nature of the sand and gravel mining is that when they empty out one area, they are going to go another piece of their property,” he said. “I don’t think they have stepped outside the nature of their business.”
Neighbors have a different view and have voiced concerns about encroachment.
“No one is out there watching them and regulating them,” said Patricia Mark, a resident the Little Pond neighorhood which abuts the Goodale property to the west. “We see it and you don’t.”
“We are not looking to put them out of business, we are just looking for them to be good neighbors,” she added.
Travis Larsen, another Little Pond resident, appealed to the board to set some parameters for expansion in the context of a special permit process.
In a letter, abutter Barbara Ronchetti asked the town to enforce a reclamation plan for the pit, much of which is now out of use.
The Goodale property has come under monitoring by the state Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, which is working with the company to replant scrub oak in areas no longer used for mining.
Iron Hill resident Richard Fried spoke to the environmental and health effects of mining for sand and gravel in verbal and written testimony presented to the board.
“People that are living in a community should be aware of what chemicals are in the air,” he said.
But hearing chairman Kris Chvatal said he didn’t think those issues were the jurisdiction of the zoning board.
Jerry Lynch, who operates the White Brothers-Lynch Corporation asphalt plant on the Goodale property, said other organizations such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration regulate the Goodales with respect to environmental concerns.
And members of the construction trades defended the company’s right to mine the land they own.
Many who attended the hearing defended the Goodale business in its entirety, though Mr. Chvatal reminded the audience that their ability to continue operations was not on the table for debate.
Supporters of Goodales said the company employs many Islanders and provides material for much of the Vineyard’s infrastructure.
“I think he does a great job helping the community,” said Mike Capen, a direct abutter to the property.
Mr. Chvatal said conversations with town counsel had revealed to him that the Goodale case was a coin toss. “There is case law that backs the applicant and there is case law that backs the bulding department and it is going to come down to a judgment call,” he said. Mr. Dunn, who is stepping down as building inspector, did not attend the hearing.
Though ultimately voting not to require a special permit process, Mr. Chvatal said he was concerned about the proximity of the property to the abutting neighborhoods.
At the hearing, Peter Goodale estimated it would be 20 years before they reached the westernmost corner of their property.
After the meeting, board members estimated that current mining operations are about 1,000 feet from that boundary, a distance of approximately three football fields.
“I wonder if the closer they get to the residential lots over there, whether there is some greater impact on these properties,” Mr. Chvatal said toward the end of the hearing. “I would love to secure an agreement to get a fence or a row of trees planted.”
But without a special permit, any such requirements cannot be enforced.