Three hawkers’ licenses approved
In a discussion lasting two hours, the Town Council received and voted on applications for Hawkers’ and Peddlers’ licenses, which allow individuals to set up mobile retail businesses on town property, such as food stands and snack carts.
The last holder of a Hawkers’ and Peddlers’ license had a food stand set up in the North Point parking lot next to Settlers Rock, and that was several years ago. At its Wednesday, Jan. 15, meeting, the council received six applications for licenses.
Prior to opening the process, the council had approved only one site for the vendors, which is near Settlers Rock, and determined that they would approve up to three applications. In response to applications for alternate sites and a detailed discussion, other sites were approved. The council reiterated that applicants must be year-round Block Island residents, with exceptions for members of the military and college students, and the applicant has the option to change their desired location if the first requested location is denied. Gaffett and others expressed an “understanding” that applicants themselves would run the businesses and not simply hire someone to run it full time. The expectation, according to Gaffett, is that the license provides an annual income for their holders.
The applications were considered in the order they were submitted to Town Hall. Councilor Warfel recused himself from the votes.
Cindy Kelly’s application for a food stand that would operate year-round specified a summer location at Mosquito Beach and a winter location in one of three possible locations. In the end, Kelly’s license was granted for Ball O’Brien Park with a 4-0 vote.
Andre Boudreau’s application for a food stand at the South East Light was approved with a 4-0 vote. In addition, all permissions for Boudreau's use of the grounds at Southeast Lighthouse had been approved by the Board of Directors of the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation prior to the license application deadline.*
Ben Edwards’ application for a food stand at the North Light parking lot was passed with a 3-1 vote after his original preference for Mansion Beach was rejected. Gaffett observed that the application was not fully detailed and specifically asked if Edwards was a year-round resident. Edwards responded that he is and Gaffett said she would “take him at his word.” Gaffett voted against the application.
The licenses expire after one year, after which the license holder can apply for renewal. Three remaining applications put on hold were Rob Closter applying for a North light location, Carol Payne for a Mohegan trail site adjacent to her home and Noah Gasner for the North Light location.
DEM Deer plan finalized
The Town Council voted 4 – 1 to approve the Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) deer herd reduction program. Councilor Chris Warfel cast the lone dissenting vote. As the discussion opened, Warfel expressed strong opposition about taking a vote given that the plan had been handed to council members just as they arrived at the meeting. “We cannot act on this,” he said, “we haven’t had a chance to review this and the public has not had a chance to see the document.”
Warfel asked the council, “What’s the point of our regulations if we’re not going to follow them?” Warfel wanted to make sure the Town Council was fully aware of its haste in the matter.
First Warden Kim Gaffett said that the issue was an exception to the general rule, though. “This is at a crisis level. We should at least have a discussion,” she said. Norris Pike agreed, saying, “the timing of a vote on the document is now.”
In a heated exchange, Gaffett conceded that council rules require documents to be submitted by the Friday before a meeting in order to be placed before the group. Gaffett said they hadn’t received the finished document until two hours before the meeting, but she insisted that the council needed to consider the document then and either vote or reschedule a vote within days because of the urgency of the issue. The program, which will bring sharpshooters to the island and is designed to reduce the deer population by as many as 200 heads (outside of the deer that island hunters will bag) is to begin within weeks.
“This has been a long time coming in terms of preparation,” said Gaffett. Discussions between the DEM and the island’s Deer Task Force began in earnest early last year, and concluded with a vote by the council approving the plan last month. The vote taken at Wednesday’s meeting was to approve final legal documents to set the plan in motion.
In response to questions from Warfel seeking an explanation of the late receipt of the documents, Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla said, “We had to revise the documents over the weekend because we [initially] got the wrong copy from the DEM. I wanted to make sure I was satisfied with the agreement” before it was presented to the Council.
“I was not insinuating any fault, only that it hasn’t gotten to us in time,” Warfel said. “It would have been nice to know about this process while it was going on.”
The council then went through a thorough description of how the Service Agreement came to be finalized and submitted for review by Town Council. According to Merolla, there was a slow and deliberate negotiation process between her and DEM over the past month or so. During that process, she required the agreement to include contractual and financial protections for the Town of New Shoreham.
As a result, the town can cancel the agreement at any time, and White Buffalo, Inc. can cancel for one of three reasons: if a cancellation was invoked by exceptional circumstances, if their services cannot be performed safely, or if they feel the town or DEM are not holding up their end of the bargain, in which case there are 10 days allowed for the matter to be resolved. Also, according to Merolla, the town will receive daily reports during the deer culling process, and proposed sites will be coordinated with the Block Island Chief of Police. “Safety and liability are of primary concern,” Merolla concluded.
Becky Ballard and Bill McKernan, both members of the DTF, were present at the meeting. Ballard added, “The DTF needs to start fundraising but we don’t want to until these documents are passed.”
McKernan said, “The DTF would like to thank everyone that’s worked so hard to make this happen. We urge [Town Council] to approve the agreement.”
The issues were fully exhausted before the council took its vote. Before voting, Gary Ryan and Ken Lacoste voiced their appreciation for both Warfel’s concerns and the urgency of the matter. The council then passed the Deer Reduction Management Service Agreement, 4 - 1.
The Town Council made an amendment to an ordinance in the Motor Vehicles for Hire Regulations. According to the original language, the surviving spouse of a chauffeur’s license holder is required to initiate a transfer of the license within 24 hours of the death of the holder. Town Council voted 5-0 to amend the regulation to allow for 30 days to make the transfer.
“When somebody passes away, a chauffeur’s license is not the first thing on the spouse’s mind,” Gaffett said. If the spouse of the deceased license holder fails or declines to submit for a transfer within 30 days, the license is automatically expired, leaving room for individuals on the waiting list to attain a chauffeur’s license.
The council received recommendations from a committee of the Chamber of Commerce charged with reviewing tourism services. Member Jessica Willi, who is also Director of the Tourism Council, said that the group has had about 10 meetings and is enthusiastic about how the work is progressing. She said she appreciated the cooperation the group has received from Town Hall and the Town Manager Nancy Dodge in facilitating proposed changes to the contract for trash pickup. The group is studying solar powered trash receptacles that might replace the current ones, but in the short-term will seek to clean and improve those in current use.
The group is researching the possibility of employing “good will ambassadors” to patrol downtown and assist visitors at busy times. A recommendation was made to consider transferring management of the public restrooms at Old Harbor in order to improve their maintenance and service provisions. The need for a foot wash was cited in order to encourage people to not wash their feet in the sink and clogging the drain with sand.
Regarding the ongoing conversation about the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) regulations for street lights, the Town Council and The Block Island Power Company agreed to work together when purchasing new energy-efficient street lights at a reduced cost via state-issued tariffs.
Bill Penn, Chair of the Historic District Commission (HDC), expressed his concerns with “lax enforcement of sign ordinance.” He said, “Some signs in town comply with sign ordinance laws, while a business next door doesn’t.” The HDC hopes to get this problem fixed by the time summer comes, but the Town Council couldn’t come up with any ideal solutions. There’s no way to easily enforce the laws at the moment, and “our building official is very busy,” Chris Warfel said. Ken Lacoste brought up another problem, that even if violators are cited by the town, “they usually appeal the [citation] and end up avoiding it until the off-season, anyway. After other properties see that there’s no immediate consequences, they don’t see a real reason to follow the sign ordinances.”
Town attorney Kathy Merolla reported that the town’s position had been upheld in a Superior Court decision on the “Transfer Station Litigation.” In a legal suit against the Block Island Recycling Management, Inc. (BIRM), Waste Haulers BI, LLC made allegations against BIRM and the Town of New Shoreham that included fraud, and violations of the Open Meetings Law and the Municipal Contracting Act. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the Town of New Shoreham on all counts. Waste Haulers is now appealing that decision.
The council approved the appointment of former council member Sean McGarry to Old Harbor Task Force with a 5-0 vote, and reminded the public that there is still an opening on the zoning board.
Lastly, Councilor Warfel asked for a motion to decide on a date for a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) representative to visit with Town Council. The council had received an anonymous letter last week about the absence of SNAP on Block Island, asking the council to investigate opportunities. Warfel said on Wednesday that he’d spoken to a Federal employee from Boston who would agree to visit with the Council as a SNAP representative. It would probably be a noon meeting, and Warfel said, “We’ll give local venders and businesses enough time to put it in their schedule.
The Council met in closed session to consider pending legal issues and adjourned at 10:50 p.m.
*Due to a reporting error, the approval process for the Hawkers and Peddlers license for resident Andre Boudreau was originally mischaracterized. Correctly stated, all permissions for Mr. Boudreau's use of the grounds at Southeast Lighthouse had been approved by the Board of Directors of the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation prior to the license application deadline. The license was not subject to approval by Mr. Boudreau's wife, who is the executive director of the Southeast Lighthouse Foundation.