A months-long debate about moped rentals and town bylaw enforcement flared up again in Oak Bluffs this week after the owner of a moped rental company asked for a waiver of the town’s requirement for a test track on his properties, a request that was rescinded during the meeting.
Jason Leone, who co-owns the three moped rental companies in Oak Bluffs, asked selectmen to waive part of the town bylaw that requires moped owners to have a 50-foot test track on their property. The waiver would apply to Mr. Leone’s 2017 license.
Former selectman and businessman Todd Rebello spoke on behalf of Mr. Leone, stating that town moped rental businesses stand by the idea they are already exempt from the requirement because of a grandfathering provision in the bylaw but wanted to take official steps.
“They felt they had nothing to lose to come in and ask for a waiver for those three businesses on the training track requirement,” he said.
Mr. Rebello said that about 15 years ago the town moped bylaws were amended to require the training tracks. None of the rental companies had the space to adhere to the provision, he said, but the businesses were not shut down because they were grandfathered in, he said. The provision was meant to ensure that when the existing business closed, the moped rentals would end.
There was, however, confusion at the meeting about whether the moped companies were indeed exempt from having a test track. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said there is no documentation of a testing track waiver ever being granted, and it was not clear at the meeting whether the businesses were grandfathered.
The request also came against a backdrop of intense moped debate in Oak Bluffs and around the Island, largely stemming from an accident last summer in which a young woman lost part of her leg. A newly-formed Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee filed a formal complaint in Oak Bluffs in January, alleging lack of bylaw enforcement and discrepancies with paperwork, and filed a similar complaint earlier this month in Tisbury. The group also petitioned for a town meeting article in both towns asking for the moped rental licenses to be made null and void, and non-binding referendums in all Island towns ask residents whether mopeds should be banned.
The training track waiver was met with concern from selectman Walter Vail, who noted wide-spread public opinion against mopeds on the Island and pressure on the board to take action. “My opinion is if I were to do something like give a waiver at this point, it sounds like I am in favor of keeping mopeds and I am not,” he said. “So I’m thinking why would I give a waiver on something that really is important to people that want to use mopeds.”
Mopeds Are Dangerous committee member Lisa Holley said the group was strongly opposed. “In fact we’re confounded that we’re even here discussing a potential waiver,” she said.
“If the board decides today to issue a waiver, we see that as a very serious legal implication for licensing on the Vineyard,” she said. “We don’t mean this by any means to be disrespectful or threatening, but we have no other choice but to seek injunctive relief against the issuance of a waiver.”
Mr. Rebello then said he withdrew the request. “We were here because we thought this was the will of the board of selectmen,” he said, but the board’s comments indicated to him otherwise. “We will stand on the fact that we continue to be exempt.”
Board chairman Gail Barmakian responded that Mr. Vail did not speak for the entire board. After clarifying the request to withdraw, she said the discussion was over, which was met with disagreement from several members in the audience. Ms. Barmakian said further discussion would be limited to questions about the test track.
Heated questions centered on whether the town bylaw really included the grandfathering provision, including a request to read the town bylaw regarding the test track provisions and what grandfathering meant. Interim Chilmark police chief and action committee member Tim Rich said he had been asking repeatedly about the grandfathering provision, including reaching out to the attorney general, and said he wanted to know whether town counsel has offered advice about the matter. Ms. Barmakian said the questions were to be addressed at another time, and she did not have a copy of the bylaw.
Mr. Rebello said despite withdrawing the test track request, Mr. Leone and his business partner stand by an offer to reduce the number of mopeds available for rent from 218 to 203.
The board has tentatively scheduled a hearing for their next meeting, March 28, about the merits of the moped complaint.
In other business, selectmen approved installation of diagonal parking spots along the harbor between Dukes County Road to the bathhouse, the addition of three stop signs, and a new crosswalk on County Road near the firehouse.
The board also approved two new taxi permits for Your Taxi. Owner Diane Habekost said the company planned to add two smaller cars to their fleet to accommodate increased requests for service. She said the new permits would bring in enough income to allow her to pay for commercial parking and remove taxis from her residential property.
Selectmen approved the permits with the condition that the new taxis wouldn’t be kept in a residential area.
At the end of the lengthy meeting, resident Kevin Brennan appeared to follow up about complaints he and several neighbors filed last summer over a tractor trailer and car parked at 17 Wayland avenue for several years. He said about $6,700 in fines had been assessed, but he looked to the town’s guidance for further action. The board referred him to the town building inspector, who said there has been discussion about filing a criminal complaint.