By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on 12/17/18, the Fairhaven Selectboard issued a temporary license to Fairhaven Getty to allow the business to operate only until the next Selectboard meeting when a licensing hearing will be held to address problems at the business reported by Building Commissioner/ Zoning Enforcement Agent Kristian White in November.
Mr. White reviewed his findings with the Board on 12/17, noting that he discovered too many cars on the lot, employee cars parked on the street, fire access blocked, encroachment of the setback on Grinnell Street. The report also alleges that there were several unregistered cars at 51 Mangham Way, which is owned by Hatem El Rifai, the owner/operator of Fairhaven Getty, which is located at 371 Huttleston Avenue.
Mr. White also told the board that Mr. El Rifai also had nine unregistered vehicles at Custom Floors, located at 405 Huttleston Avenue, in an alleged deal to store Getty vehicles there in return for mechanical work on Custom Floors vehicles.
Attorney Robert Perry, representing Mr. El Rifai, disputed some of the findings in the report. Mr. Perry said that there were no employee cars on the streets and said the fire lane was not blocked.
He said sometimes there was some overlap between cars that were for sale and customer cars. He also stressed that the station is an official Mass. Inspection Station. Customers are allowed to show up without an appointment and Mr. El Rifai is required to inspect them for a sticker. Mr. Perry said with the new requirements for a sticker, it takes much longer to perform the inspection, and a lot of gas stations no longer do them, resulting in more customers requiring the service.
Customers sometimes have cars towed to the station overnight, said Mr. Perry, which is out of the station’s control. He said Mr. El Rifai does not like to let his repair customers down. They need their cars fixed and he tries to accommodate them.
“Here’s a guy who really cares about helping the community,” said Mr. Perry, adding they cannot turn customers away because there are too many cars on the lot. “It’s tough. He tries his best.”
As for the cars on Mangham Way, Mr. Perry said that one was there to block the door of the shed because the contractor had materials stolen from it in the past.
Mr. Perry explained away some other vehicles that put the numbers over the limit, saying they had broken down and were awaiting servicing. He said the deal with Custom Floors was misunderstood, one of those vehicles had broken down on the road, another was being fixed.
Mr. Perry also disputed the setback violation, saying that it was not lined, so they were estimating the distance, and they would be happy to paint lines to make it clear.
He also said some cars are on the lot, and have been for a long time because they were abandoned, or the owners were trying to get the money to pay for repairs.
Mr. El Rifai also addressed the board directly, saying he was trying to work hard to build his business, and he does not “play games.”
“I will not change, I will stay honest,” said Mr. El Rifai.
He said cars are in and out all day long, so the number of cars on the lot changes constantly. He said he wants to keep his customers happy, so he moves the cars out quickly.
All three board members said they did not want to shut down a business in Fairhaven, but that they also were dealing with the same complaints over and over, and the neighbors were still not happy with the way the business operates and disrupts the residential neighborhood.
Board members did note that they got a lot of emails and letters in support of Mr. El Rifai, and a show of hands in the packed room also showed that about 15 people were there to support him, although a few were there to complain.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola noted, though, that the complaints were the same as before, for several years. He said Mr. El Rifai should be able manage the situation by now.
“You have to find a balance,” said Mr. Espindola, adding that the board cannot keep holding hearings without taking any action. “It’s just a matter of management.”
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty said it sounded like Mr. El Rifai was “over-purchasing.” He suggested reducing the number of spots for used cars and adding repair spots.
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas said nobody was saying that Mr. El Rifai was a “bad guy,” but added that the situation could not stay the same.
“I don’t want to shut a business down,” said Mr. Freitas. “But something has to be done.”
He acknowledged Mr. El Rifai’s complaint that he was being watched very closely by the man across the street, referring to Louis Baptiste of RRR Auto, who frequently complains about the cars at the Getty, and often has photos to prove his point.
“There’s not much you can do about it,” said Mr. Freitas.
The board did not take any public comment, but voted to agree with the findings of the inspector and set a licensing hearing date of 1/14
At that time, the board will hear from Fairhaven Getty about a plan to comply with the licensing. Town Administrator Mark Rees will work with the business and town counsel to come up with a “modified” license to make it easier for Fairhaven Getty to comply. Meanwhile, the business was granted a temporary license with the same conditions as last year to continue operating.
At the 1/14 meeting the board has a range of options to choose from, including not renewing the license, or suspending the license temporarily.
In other business, the board approved Mr. Rees’s appointment of Whitney McClees as the new Conservation Agent/Sustainability Coordinator. A Fairhaven resident, Ms. McClees worked as a Recycling Enforcement Agent in Fairhaven this summer, inspecting recycling bins around town. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Management, and has experience in her field in a variety of research and internship positions. She starts this month.
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