By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard took no further action against Fairhaven Getty at its meeting on Monday, 2/25. Selectboard member Daniel Freitas was absent from the meeting.
Board chairperson Bob Espindola and member Charles Murphy both said they were satisfied with the progress that the gas station had made in the last two weeks. The board had given owner Hatem El Rifai seven days to remove vehicles, and unblock the fire lane to come into compliance with his license to operate a gas station, repair station, and used car lot.
At first, though, Town Administrator Mark Rees said that he had received additional complaints about the property, specifically that there was a line of cars waiting for the inspection bay. The board also received complaints contending that employees were parking on the street.
But, Mr. Rees said, “There has been significant improvements,” compared to the last meeting.
He said hopefully, Mr. El Rifai will “continue to be responsive” when there are complaints.
Mr. Espindola noted that progress had been made, but not all conditions were met. He also noted that there was a cost associated with repeatedly sending an inspector to the same property. He said he believed the town had a bylaw in place to recoup that cost.
Mr. Rees said he would research that bylaw.
Attorney Robert Perry, representing Mr. El Rifai, said there was a problem with three abandoned cars: cars owned by customers who simply left their cars there instead of paying for repairs. Mr. Perry said that removing abandoned vehicles was more complicated and takes more time than cars owned by the business.
He said part of the problem is simply that the business is very busy.
“He does wonderful work at a reasonable price, so people flock to him,” said Mr. Perry, adding that he goes there himself.
He noted that the whole rear of the property near the building had been cleared, and showed the board pictures. He said Mr. El Rifai had the proper number of cars on the lot, no more. Mr. El Rifai had asked for a 30 day extension to have time to secure a lot in Westport, said Mr. Perry.
Mr. Espindola noted that Mr. El Rifai’s usual excuse was that he had cars going overseas. Mr. Espindola told Mr. Perry that his client should take that into consideration, and that the number of cars allowed did not change because of where they would be sold.
Mr. Espindola did note, however, that the board would not penalize the business because cars were waiting to be inspected.
Mr. Perry and Mr. El Rifai told the board that they did not believe any employees were parking on the street, that they believed it was the neighbors parking there. Some cars have blocked the fire lane access.
Mr. El Rifai insisted that his employees were not parking there. He suggested that the town prohibit parking along the street by his business, saying it would be “better for everybody.”
He said his competitor across the street is always looking for ways to complain and sometimes the complaints are just not true. He also said that other businesses are violating rules of their businesses, but only he is being single out.
Mr. Rees suggested that the board contact the police department about prohibiting parking near the fire lane.
The neighbors should not be blocking the fire lane, said Mr. Espindola.
Mr. El Rifai said he was willing to put up a chain at his own expense, but Mr. Espindola said the fire and police departments should decide.
Mr. Espindola also said it did not matter who was complaining, and noted that Mr. El Rifai’s business was way over the number of cars he should have had, by 77%.
“You have to stay on top of this,” said Mr. Espindola, adding that it was more than the competition that was complaining it was the neighbors.
Either way, “If you follow the rules,” he said, there is no problem.
“We don’t want to keep bringing you in,” said Mr. Rees.
Mr. El Rifai said he just wanted to focus on his business and not be stressed during the day worrying about complaints and inspectors. And again mentioned other businesses that are not following the rules, in his estimation.
Mr. Rees said it was not about other places. If the town gets a complaint about him or other places, he said, the town will “take appropriate action.”
“If you have a specific concern, call it in,” said Mr. Espindola.
The board told Mr. El Rifai that they would take no action against his license, but that the town would continue to conduct “periodic inspections” of the business.
In another matter, the board held a public hearing and voted to allow Ocean State Job Lot to sell beer and wine at its store on Berdon Way. The measure will still have to be approved by the legislature.
Store manager Heather Santos, and Attorney Lisa Adelman told the board that the company sells beer and wine at six other stores. Job Lot owns and operates 129 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey, with 50 being in Massachusetts.
The store will have a separate area for alcohol sales, will not allow minors to work in that area or ring up alcohol sales, and will make sure all employees are TIPS certified.
The store will only sell private label, specialty niche brands.
Hours for selling alcohol will be the same as store hours except on Sundays, when alcohol sales cannot begin until 10 a.m. by law.
Mr. Murphy said he was supportive of the move and that he was “really happy you are in our community.”
Steven Benoit, a Fairhaven resident and Job Lot employee, told the board that he overheard Ms. Santos saying she would be at the meeting, so he went to show support. He noted that he was not asked to go by the company.
Mr. Benoit told the board that he was impressed with the “quality people” that the organization hires.
“I don’t understand it, for a business that does not pay that well,” he said, adding that most of his co-workers show good judgement.
The company, he said, has “been a good citizen of this town, and are “very professional.”
The board approved the request.
In other business, the board supported the creation of a gift account to start the Bobby Bruso Scholarship Fund. Mr. Bruso, 55, died this month after about two months in the hospital.
He worked as the town’s Cable Access director for Community Access/Government Access cable TV. The position had been vacant for a long time and Mr. Bruso upgraded equipment, introduced livestreaming, and revamped the way on-demand meetings are accessed online.
“In his short time here, he had a pretty significant impact,” said Mr. Espindola.
“His memory, his name will be announced at every graduation, so his memory, his legacy, will remain in Fairhaven,” said Mr. Murphy.
The board did not vote to fund the scholarship, but to set up the account so the public can fund it. The board did not discuss who would administer the account.
The board also voted to have Mr. Rees draft a letter of support for the latest recommendation for rail service from the Southcoast to Boston. The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR) recommends a route through Middleborough from New Bedford and Fall River that uses existing tracks. It falls short of the “full build” plan that the region hopes to get eventually. The new plan is being sold as a stop-gap measure to provide some rail service to the region until the full build option can be constructed.
One of the board’s strategic goals, identified last fall, was to promote rail service to Boston, noted Mr. Murphy.
Mr. Espindola said it was a “Catch 22,” though, because if the new plan goes through, it might further delay the better full build option.
“It’s not as ideal as a direct route,” said Mr. Espindola, “but…”
In other business:
• The board tabled until its next meeting a request to appoint Gary Lavalette to the Rogers School Study Committee so Mr. Rees can research the creation of the committee to find out how many members it was originally supposed to have.
• Appointed newly appointed water superintendent Jeff Furtado as the town’s representative on the Mattapoisett River Valley Water District Commission. The appointment is a joint decision by the Board of Public Works and the Selectboard. The BPW had already recommended Mr. Furtado for the position.
• Accepted the town report with some minor word changes.
• Went over operating budget numbers and the Capital Improvement plan for FY19, but held off on voting until the next meeting.
• Approved the Town Meeting warrant with minor changes.
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