There is remarkably little heavy industry on the Vineyard, a fact that lends to its appeal as a vacation destination, but also contributes to some of its economic woes.
When the Colby Construction Company began operating a gravel and sand pit and producing cement at Red Hill in Oak Bluffs in 1945, it was hailed as a great step forward for the Island, paving the way for cheaper construction and lower costs for road maintenance.
And for nearly half a century after the Goodale family acquired the business in 1962, Goodale’s operation behind the intersection of Barnes and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Roads engendered more good will than bad on an Island grateful for local building materials and year-round jobs.
But as development grew on the Island and houses began springing up in the lovely areas surrounding the 100-acre Goodale property, tension inevitably emerged between homeowners and the mining and asphalt operations.
Most recently, neighbors complained after Goodale’s began mining new parts of the property, removing trees and moving into areas that were previously unmined. Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn ordered the company to apply for a special permit, claiming the sand and gravel operation had been substantially expanded after the use became nonconforming under zoning laws.
Goodales argued that simply moving their digging from one part of their property to another didn’t constitute expansion, and that their mining activities were grandfathered because they began before zoning was enacted in Oak Bluffs. The area is now considered a residential zone.
Last week the zoning board of appeals agreed with Goodale’s, voting unanimously to allow them to continue operating without a special permit.
As a legal question, the decision was a jump ball. Hearing chairman Kris Chvatal said he was told by town counsel that case law is divided on issues of this kind.
Though we have sympathy for the abutting homeowners, we applaud the board for making a tough judgment call in favor of a respected community member and important contributor to the Island economy. In addition to supplying material for building projects, the company employs about 20 full-time workers.
Though there is only one gravel pit on the Vineyard, the issue is not so different from other neighborhood squabbles occurring more frequently all over the Island where action by one property owner impinges on the lifestyle of another.
The best solution is never perfect.