ORLEANS — Bluefish Outfitters, the parent company of Goose Hummock Shops, won’t drop anchor for marina and boat storage at the former Beth Bishop parking lot on Route 28.
“We have found an alternate site and will not be asking to store boats on the property at this time,” David Bailey, outdoor center manager for Goose Hummock, wrote in an email Nov. 13. At the Nov. 6 zoning board meeting, the company withdrew its request for a special permit to do that without making a presentation.
That action came on the heels of the board’s denial of the company’s request for another special permit, this one to convert the use of the property from retail/office/apartments to office space and storage. Public comment during the hearing made clear that the proposed boat storage use had neighbors worried about the related request to use the former retail building at 45 South Orleans Rd. for offices and storage.
“What’s isolated here is a fairly benign change,” board chairman Michael Marnik said. “Beth Bishop was in there, it seems, since Year 1 with a straight commercial and retail use. Now the owner has proposed to use the building… for fairly benign uses which don’t have any effect on traffic or parking.”
“I feel there’s a very tightly woven connection between them,” an audience member said of the two special permit requests. “There’s a little bit of sense of ‘give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.’”
In response to questions from the public, Bailey said that the store’s buildings on Town Cove are primarily retail space. “We can’t buy things one or two at a time,” he said. “We have to buy in bulk. We need storage space to facilitate that.”
The former Beth Bishop property “is not conducive to large trucks coming in,” said Bailey, who added that large-truck deliveries are made to a location on Old County Road, broken into pallets, and taken to the new property for storage by pick-up truck. “The owner’s wife loves the building,” he said. “There are no plans to change the architectural image or facade. We do have landscapers taking care of it. In this application, we’re just changing what the interior is being used for, reducing the square footage of office space and converting retail space to storage.”
But concern over the not-yet-heard request for boat storage on the lot continued to overshadow discussion of the conversion of the interior of the building. “Just because you get the first one, you don’t get a 90 percent slide toward the second one,” an audience member said. “It’s the second one that’s got people’s guts in a knot.”
Marnik noted that the board could put conditions on the permit, though he made clear he was not stating that he was in favor of doing that. “We’re talking here about the products for eventual retail sale being warehoused inside the old Beth Bishop building in a somewhat restructured series of rooms. I didn’t hear any strong evidence that there would be traffic or pick-up trucks on a shuttle going down to Beth Bishop.”
If warehousing and offices were the only intended use, an audience member asked, “Why aren’t the offices and warehouses in areas where trucks and pallets can happen all the time?.. It feels like this is already a warehouse completely jammed to the gills with a modest number of offices and lots of storage… This doesn’t feel like it fits in with what everybody is talking about what they want this town to do.”
“We have trucks going down there a couple of times a week,” Bailey said. “The amount of product moved in and out of the building is pretty unobtrusive. This application is just to recognize the way we’ve been running the building the past few months.” He added that the store “doesn’t have the volume that would require a warehouse.”
Historical commission chairman Ron Petersen and two other members of his board attended the Nov. 6 hearing to express concern about maintaining the area between Academy Place and the French Cable Museum as “an oasis of older Orleans..” Asked by Marnik to suggest the “highest and best use of the property,” Petersen said businesses such as Beth Bishop and a psychotherapy office on the property “did not alter the public streetscape from the public view and functioned with a reasonable amount of traffic… Storage by itself from a street view is benign, but storage that generates traffic and trucks and an inordinate amount of additional activity is not benign.”
Bailey said traffic at the site involves one or two cars for people who work in the office, two people with cars who live in apartments, and “pick-up trucks once or twice a day.” He said the parking lot is used for overflow by Yardarm and Addison Gallery customers, and even residents of condos at the rear of the property. The company’s pick-up trucks, he said, are much smaller than the 18-wheelers that deliver beer to the Yardarm just across the street.
Marnik and member Gerald Mulligan appeared not to be convinced, in the former’s words, that “any change from the present historic Beth Bishop use and dimensions of storage reflects the highest and best use and does honor to the neighborhood.” Mulligan said, “You left the impression you don’t understand the basic issue of that area, that you would even suggest storing boats there.”
Member Bruce Taub sounded a note of weariness. “What’s before us once again is a subjective (discussion) about what is or is not detrimental to the character of the town,” he said, “and we are making subjective decisions about what we think this should look like as we pledge allegiance to these bylaws. It feels again to me to be immensely subjective.” “Everything we do is subjective,” Mulligan replied.
Taub moved to approve the special permit request, adding that he was willing to consider conditions. After some discussion among the board and audience members, Mulligan moved to require that no vehicles larger than single-body trucks be allowed to make deliveries, but member Emily Van Giezen and Taub disagreed. “My condition is to respond to some of the obvious angst in the room,” Mulligan said, but the vote was 3-2, one short of the necessary four super majority.
That was the score on the motion to grant the permit as well, with Marnik and Mulligan opposed.
In his email Nov. 13, Bailey wrote that the company “will be reapplying, in a timely fashion, and addressing some of the concerns of the public and the board” regarding use of the building. “We feel that the controversy surrounding the marine storage application muddied the water and affected the discussion for change of use. Hopefully, after being reviewed on its own merits, the application will be granted.”