Tour Boat Special Use Permit
by Tim Wood
CHATHAM ó Long simmering frustrations over recently enacting town landing regulations boiled over Tuesday after the Board of Selectmen voted to uphold the denial of a special use permit for Beachcomber owner Paul Avellarís 55-foot Sea Bus.
The Sea Bus docked at Ryder's Cove earlier this year.
Avellarís supporters and charter fishermen unhappy with what they see as restrictive regulations for use of Old Mill Boatyard and other town landings shouted at board members immediately following the unanimous vote, accusing officials of "selective enforcement" and kowtowing to wealthy waterfront property owners.
Standing and gesturing at the standing-room-only audience crowded into the meeting room at the Eldredge Public Library, Chairman of Selectmen Ronald Bergstrom angrily challenged opponents to "stand up and ask if the town supports the regulations" by putting the measure to a vote at Town Meeting.
Norman St. Pierre, Avellarís father-in-law, shouted that selectmen were elected by the people and should reflect their wishes. "We will not forget," he said. "You wonít get our vote."
"I will stand on every decision I made," retorted a visibly agitated Bergstrom.
"Youíre responding to Mrs. Hoyt!" Sandy Coddington shouted, referring to the Stage Harbor property owner who hired an attorney to press selectmen to adopt the town landing regulations.
Many of Avellarís supporters left the meeting in disgust, while some continued to confront members of the Board of Selectmen. Norma Avellar, Paul Avellarís mother, engaged in a brief shouting match with Selectman Eileen Our on the libraryís front steps.
"Itís selective enforcement," exclaimed charter fishing boat operator Bill Cooling, who said the special use permit he was granted by Director of Coastal Resources Ted Keon severely limited his ability to make a living.
In upholding Keonís denial of a special use permit for the Sea Bus, selectmen said Avellarís proposal failed to meet some of the criteria in the regulation, specifically that the bus he planned to use to transport passengers to and from Old Mill Boatyard holds more than 25 people. Under the regulations, buses holding more than 25 people are prohibited from using town landings, except school buses.
Board members also cited the congestion and heavy use at Old Mill Boatyard, which was one of the main reasons Keon denied the request.
"We felt [Sea Bus] was far in excess of the carrying capacity of the small, very modest facility at Old Mill Boatyard," Keon said.
Bergstrom also pointed out that even if the selectmen overrode Keon, Harbormaster Stuart Smith had denied permission for Sea Bus to use the ramp at Old Mill Boatyard to load and offload passengers under a separate set of regulations. Approval by the harbormaster is one of the requirements for a special use permit.
It was clear from the beginning that the audience heavily favored Avellar. Debbie Connors presented the board with a petition containing 545 signatures, which she said "came from all over Chatham, not just South Chatham and West Chatham."
"I canít help but think if Paulís boat had a couple of masts and a pointed bow we wouldnít be here," said Fran Dunbar Greenhalgh. Many believe selectmen oppose the boat because of neighborhood reaction to its bright yellow color and large size.
Resident Bill Southwick urged selectmen not to make a hasty decision. "I think thereís no question there is pressure from an outside source," he said.
"Clearly thereís a lot of community support in this room" for Avellar, said Selectman Thomas Bernardo. But he "politely but firmly" rejected the assertion that selectmen were responding to pressure from Stage Harbor residents because of the size and color of the boat. He said selectmen had been discussing regulating commercial use of town landings are far back as 1998 and faced a challenge in balancing uses.
Bergstrom said heís been concerned about the commercial use of landings for the last 10 years, first as a member of the Shellfish Advisory Committee, then as a selectman. "Despite constant criticism around town that this is a reaction to special interests, the fact is over the last 10 years, use of town landings has expanded exponentially," he said, adding that he hoped Avellar "makes $1 million in this business" but that other business owners in town must lease or purchase property and do not depend on town facilities.
"I donít expect you to agree with me," he said when the audience groaned at his commented. "But I want to let you know thatís where Iím coming from."