Incoming Owner, Abutters Clash on Refashioning Beth Bishop Property

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Development , Municipal Planning and Zoning

The Goose Hummock's “test tank” was stored in the lower lot at the former Beth Bishop property earlier this month. The main building, a former retail clothing store, is seen above.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Phil Howarth says the former Beth Bishop store on Route 28 “is a building my wife fell in love with on our honeymoon in 1994.” That's one of the reasons the owner of Bluefish Outfitters, the parent company of the Goose Hummock shop, signed a lease purchase agreement for the property recently.

There are other people who love it, too, including Gail and Rick Runyon, whose home is directly behind the lower parking lot. They appreciate the historical quality of the main building, and the buffer the property provides from busy Route 28.

Howarth and the Runyons have different ideas about the future of 45 Route 28, which brought them before the zoning board of appeals Dec. 19 as Bluefish Outfitters sought a special permit to allow use of the property as a marina or boat storage.

“There are two primary buildings, Beth Bishop and the coach house,” Howarth told the board. He'd like to retain the use of the smaller coach house as rental office space, with his own company using the main building for “a small amount of office space” and a “vast amount” for storage and processing inventory. Apartment units would remain.

“We have expanded a lot in the last six years since my ownership,” said Howarth. “It's impossible to store everything in Goose Hummock. We're restricted courtesy of Governor (Frank) Sargent (Goose Hummock's founder) to many pre-existing, non-conforming conditions. We can't move a brick. That's why we invested in the Beth Bishop building.”

The property, he said, “can be rezoned for marine (uses). We'd like to take advantage to store some boats; we would not be working on them there. (They would be) 15- to 23-foot boats, relatively small, and there for a period of time.”

The company already stores some trailers on the lower lot, and would like to use the much larger upper lot for boat storage and its own parking. The site plan review committee has asked for a more formal presentation regarding several elements of the plan.

Gail and Rick Runyon of 49 South Orleans Rd., direct abutters of the property, spoke of their frustration at not being contacted by the company as it began making changes to the property. “About a year ago, we heard the rumor that Mr. Howarth was planning to take over Beth Bishop,” Gail Runyon said. She said she called the owner and was “reassured it would probably be an e-business” and that they would stay in touch.

“To date, I've never been contacted,” she said. “No one contacted us when they cut down our barrier plantings, the trees on our property line, revealing Route 28. Nobody contacted us when they put in a loading dock, when they put in an enormous Klieg light that lights up our property all night long.”

The loading dock was a particular concern for Runyon, who noted that trucks “traditionally don't come at two in the afternoon. They do that early in the morning and late at night, going in reverse with a beeping sound. Looking out our windows, we see boats and trailers stored. It doesn't seem like any of these things were applied for prior to the time it happened. We didn't have a chance before the trees and barrier plantings were taken down. We woke up one day and bulldozers were there and clear cutting happened. Nobody said a word to us.”

It's “alarming,” Rick Runyon said, “to start the experience with what we believe is unpermitted work.” He said the couple owns five residential units in two buildings and lives in the one “that looks directly down on where all this work has been done and where boats have been stored since April or May this year.” When complaints about boat storage came up, Building Commissioner Thomas Evers said, “I told the applicants they needed a special permit.”

With his tenants needing access past the lower and upper lots, Runyon said, he's concerned especially about deliveries of boats for storage. “We have an easement to share a driveway with this property,” he said. “We're at the bottom of the easement.” Noting the historic quality of the former Beth Bishop store, he added, “If boats appeared in that upper lot, there would be a whole lot of people in town who'd wonder how the heck that happened.”

The couple expressed concern also about the potential effect on traffic at the intersection of the access drive with Route 28, Academy Place, and the entrance to the shopping center at Post Office Square.

Another abutter, Roslie Gilpatric of 31 Cove Rd., was less critical but still asked for more screening for her property. “I think we need some privacy,” she said. She added that she had introduced herself to Howarth and had “a very nice discussion. I welcome him to the neighborhood.” Although “we have different concerns,” she told the Runyons, “I was delighted you cleaned up (the parking lot).” Earlier, Gail Runyon (who called both Beth Bishop and Goose Hummock “beloved institutions”) had said no one from the incoming ownership had called to thank them for that.

“I suggest you talk with each other,” ZBA chairman Michael Marnick told Howarth and the other speakers. “There's no reason you can't be good neighbors. I didn't hear anyone here sound the least bit unreasonable.” He suggested continuing the hearing to allow that discussion so “your project could please your neighbors and please yourself, and please the town also.”

“You almost summed me up,” Howarth said, and then apologized “for my lack of communication. As a serial entrepreneur, I run a hundred miles an hour, (but) I'm not excusing that. If we could have 30 seconds in a conference room, I could handle and answer some of your issues you're quite rightly raising, and facilitate a meeting at Beth Bishop and show you around and my vision.”

Marnik accepted Howarth's request to continue the hearing to the ZBA's first meeting in February.