Tisbury Inn Reconstruction Start Prompts Angry Complaints from Business Owners
By JOSHUA SABATINI
A group of Main street business owners stood by helplessly this week as their stores experienced earthquake-like conditions after reconstruction work on the Tisbury Inn began Monday.
The former anchor of the downtown business district was destroyed by a fire in December.
Bufftree Building Company of New Bedford, the contractor hired by inn owners Sherman and Susan Goldstein, began to drive 30-foot-long corrugated steel pilings into the ground along Main street using a crane and vibrating hammer.
The action caused the ground in the area to literally shake. Passersby on nearby sidewalks reported having felt vibrations climb from their feet to their legs.
A line of buildings along Main street housing businesses from Advest to Sunglasses and Then Some shook constantly as the steel pilings were driven into the ground through yesterday. Businessmen and women say that merchandise was dislodged from display cases and shelves, and that customers were deterred from entering during what typically is a week of high sales volume.
Tempers rose at the Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday, as a handful of shop owners sounded off on construction begun "too early" and without proper notice. But complaining shopkeepers found little help from the board, other than a police detail and access to the town's building inspector.
Building inspector Ken Barwick confirmed the business owners' account, telling the board that, "Basically, folks were shaken out of the stores. Some suffered display and commodity damage."
Jim Pepper, the Goldsteins' representative, said the driving of the steel into the ground along Main street would end today. He said that when the construction company starts work next week along the property line bordering Beach Road, Main street businesses will not feel similar shaking.
"It is certainly not the best of times [for such work], at peak season," Mr. Pepper conceded.
"We missed the boat on one level," said selectman Tristan Israel. "I didn't think about the pile-driving. In hindsight, it was something that should have been asked."
Mr. Pepper said the construction schedule was drafted in a vacuum: "No one thought about what date it was."
He explained that the extreme shaking came when the steel had to break through materials that nobody realized were there. These included the old Main street discovered nine feet below the existing road, a granite foundation probably from an earlier hotel on the site, an eight-inch layer of ash and a layer of cobblestone.
Mr. Israel suggested working three hours in the morning and three hours in the late afternoon to decrease disruption during the day's peak business hours.
But Mr. Pepper said such a schedule would increase the Goldsteins' cost. He said the inn's owners are paying $1,000 a day for the work and would have to pay the workers, who commute to the Island, during the lag time.
Sherryl Schrader, owner of Moonstone Jewelers, located directly across from the construction site, said, "At a Tisbury Business Association meeting [last spring], Mrs. Goldstein assured that construction would not be happening until October."
Miss Schrader added that she felt "misled," and said when she approached Mr. Sherman about the vibrations, she was "brushed off."
"It is very hard for all of us on Main street to give up our money for mortgage on the property so they [the Goldsteins] can pay theirs next year," she said.
"It's unbelievable anybody in their right mind would start this in August," said Maureen Fischer, co-owner of Sunglasses and Then Some. "As a small business owner, $5,000 is a lot of money to me. Who will pay my rent in the winter time?"
TBA president Jeff Kristal recalled this week that Mrs. Goldstein did tell his group that construction wouldn't begin until October - but suggested that she didn't think the work at the site this week was considered construction, but rather preconstruction.
The disturbance will only last a week, Mr. Kristal added, and "will benefit [everyone] in the long run."
Mrs. Goldstein told the Gazette she has attempted to be "totally transparent." She said she went from shop to shop last week letting owners know they would experience vibrations as a result of this week's work.
She said she doesn't believe she ever told anyone at a TBA meeting construction wouldn't begin until October. While Mrs. Goldstein said she has sympathy for her neighbors affected by the shaking, she also said the work in question had to be done this week.
Mrs. Goldstein said the construction company has developed a schedule with strict daily deadlines so that they can have the hotel up by the target month of June. The pilings are necessary to hold the road back for the foundation work to begin, said Mr. Pepper.
Mrs. Goldstein also said the complaints made against the shaking were a "real minority."
Safety concerns at the site were raised by selectmen Tuesday evening. Board chairman Raymond LaPorte wondered if cars should be prohibited from parking in the spots across from the site or if traffic should be halted at times.
"I am a little worried," said selectman Tom Pachico. "At the very least there should be police detail."
Another concern was for the buildings on Main street forced to withstand the rumbling. Mr. Israel asked Mr. Barwick to make himself available to any business owner who believes their building's structural integrity is being threatened by the work.
Mrs. Goldstein said if any damage occurs to the buildings or merchandise they will try to help: "I am terribly sorry for any inconvenience to the tourists and businesspeople."
Dana Nilson, senior project manager for Bufftree, said there will be a lot less noise when they move next week onto the site's Beach Road side. He said the shaking was simply "unavoidable."
The work on the Beach Road side will be finished next week, Mr. Nilson said. Then the construction company will begin laying the building's cement footing, foundation work and installing a steel framework for the building - a task that will take four to six weeks.