By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard voted to allow Fairhaven Getty to keep its license at its 2/27/19 meeting. The board has been grappling with how to handle a variety of violations by owner Hatem El Rifai, including too many cars on the lot, blocked fire lane, and cars on the street.
Building Commissioner/Zoning Enforcement Agent Kristian White and Town Administrator Mark Rees worked with the Mr. El Rifai and his attorney, Robert Perry, to draft changes to the license to make it easier for Mr. El Rifai to be in compliance. The new regulations include four fewer spaces for used cars on sale, to allow for more spots for repairs and other customers. The business must also paint stripes so it is clear where cars can park.
The business must also provide an engineered plan showing the new layout. All the changes must be done by mid-May, Mr. Rees told the board.
The business agreed to all the changes, he said, but they were “silent” on the recommendation that the business pay $52/week for weekly inspections to ensure compliance.
Mr. Perry said he was purposely silent on that point.
“It seems unduly punitive, quite honestly,” Mr. Perry told the board.
He said to conduct weekly inspections, force the business to pay for them, with no end date, is excessive, especially since they agreed with all the other changes.
He said that Mr. El Rifai will have to spend an “awful lot of money” on the changes, which include fixing a fence and planting arbor vitaes in addition to the striping and layout plan.
“It just seems a little over the top, is my position on that one…you’ve got the bull whip here,” said Mr. Perry, adding that he hoped they would agree that the money Mr. El Rifai is already going to spend to satisfy the board and make up for this “indiscretions” would be enough. “I think he’s already pretty well punished here.”
He added that the business is losing four used car spots, “and they’re pretty valuable.”
Selectboard member Charles Murphy asked if the board had ever required any other business to pay for inspections.
Mr. Rees offered a compromise: That the town will not charge them for the inspections while they are working on the premises to comply.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said he could go along with that but he wanted to make it clear that if there were any issues after the May date that the charge would “absolutely” be part of it. He said he sees Mr. White working late many nights, so it is clear that the extra inspections are taking him away from other work he needs to be doing.
The board agreed not to charge the $52 unless other violations are discovered, then they will start charging it.
Mr. Perry noted that the business faced a number of “false complaints,” and he told the board that those would not stop.
It is no secret that Louis Baptiste from RRR Autos across the street keeps an eagle eye out on his competition and calls regularly when he finds a violation.
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas said he received some complaints himself from various people. He said the former building inspector would then go and say there was no problem, even though Mr. Freitas said he saw some problems with his own eyes. He said the former Building Inspector had “blinders on at some point.”
“I don’t have anything against you,” Mr. Freitas told Mr. El Rifai, adding that it had been on the agenda four or five times and has been dragging on for months.
He said he wanted to have things happen automatically instead of having them go before the board again in May. If they comply, the license stays in effect, if not, it automatically is revoked.
Mr. El Rifai said he only gets complaints from his “competition,” and motioned toward Mr. Baptiste, sitting in the public area.
“This person here, it’s all from this person here,” said Mr. El Rifai, adding that all his customers respect him and trust him.
Both Mr. Perry and Mr. El Rifai objected when Mr. Freitas motioned to allow Mr. Baptiste to speak. Mr. Perry noted that at the last meeting none of Mr. El Rifai’s supporters were allowed to speak.
Mr. El Rifai said he would have had his supporters with him but he was told last time they could not speak.
“My decision is, he’s gonna talk,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Baptiste said that the Getty station has been way over the number of cars allowed, not just by a few. He said the town needs to check the business every week or it will not be in compliance. He also said that the Getty should have a special permit according to the bylaws.
Mr. Baptiste singled out Mr. Murphy, saying he does not want to enforce the bylaws, no matter what the Getty station does.
Mr. Baptiste said he had to spend a lot of money to comply with his license and that everyone should have to live by the same rules.
“I had to jump through hoops to get my license,” said Mr. Baptiste, and noted that a mistake was found and he lost some spots, too, this year.
“If you don’t make him pay….he’s not gonna be in compliance,” said Mr. Baptiste.
“For the record,” said Mr. Murphy. “I do believe in the town bylaws,” adding that he did not “appreciate that comment.”
“It’s a fact,” said Mr. Baptiste.
“I did not appreciate it,” said Mr. Murphy.
The motion passed to extend the permit to May 22, when the board has a meeting.
Mr. El Rifai, though, did not let the meeting end quite yet. He asked Mr. Freitas why he was the only one who had to stripe his lot.
That’s what he agreed to, noted Mr. Freitas, and told Mr. Perry that if Mr. El Rifai gets caught doing anything it would not bode well. He said if he knew he was being watched, he’d be 100%, and that they could not stop anyone from complaining.
Mr. El Rifai acknowledged that he agreed, but said he was the only one who had to do it. He also said RRR had chemicals and junk everywhere, but he does not complain.
“I’m here to focus to make you happy, to make every customer happy, not complain,” said Mr. El Rifai.
Mr Espindola noted that it was a special situation.
“We got there because you admitted that you were out of compliance,” said Mr. Espindola, adding that town employees spent time to come up with a solution that he agreed to. “This is a special case because you have been repeatedly out of compliance. So that’s what it amounts to.”
He said he hoped they could all agree and “move forward.”
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