A brief but acrimonious legal battle over a fence around an auto repair shop on Worcester avenue ended last month when the town of Oak Bluffs agreed to withdraw over $18,000 in fines previously levied to Allan (Buddy) deBettencourt, owner of Buddy’s Auto and Truck Repair.
Town counsel Michael Goldsmith sent a letter to Edgartown District Court on Aug. 24 stating that Mr. deBettencourt had fulfilled his obligation to the town to build a fence around his property at 46 Worcester avenue and the town would not be pursuing monetary fines pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws.
Despite the reversal of the fines, both Mr. deBettencourt and his attorney Daniel L. Larkosh this week stood by their previous positions that the fines were arbitrary and capricious, and that building inspector Jerry Wiener overstepped his bounds while pursing the matter.
Mr. Wiener was not available this week for comment.
Previous to the fence fracas, Mr. deBettencourt last year complained to selectmen that Mr. Wiener had placed several no parking signs in front of his property. The signs were eventually taken down.
Mr. deBettencourt has operated his auto repair business and inspection station in the middle of the Worcester avenue neighborhood under a special permit since 1976. A provision in that permit requires him to screen his business from abutters with a fence.
Over the years, the fence fell into disrepair, and in January Mr. Wiener asked Mr. deBettencourt to put the fence back up. Mr.deBettencourt agreed, but said he was delayed because the cold weather had frozen the ground and some materials were not available.
Mr. Wiener then sent a letter to Mr. deBettencourt on May 15 stating that selectmen had issued a deadline of May 1 for him to replace the fence.
Mr. Wiener sent another letter to Mr. deBettencourt on June 22 stating that selectmen had voted to set a July 1 deadline for completing the fence, and that Mr. deBettencourt would be fined $300 per day retroactive to May 1 if he did not comply.
Mr. deBettencourt said he and his son Joseph replaced the original 96-foot fence by the end of June to meet the July 1 deadline. He said he added a new section at each end to provide additional screening, although only one section of the new fence was in place by July 1 because several trees and shrubs needed to be removed.
On the morning on July 2, Mr. Wiener brought a town vehicle to Mr. deBettencourt’s shop for a new inspection sticker. The two talked briefly, but the fence was not discussed.
Later that day, Mr. Wiener returned and presented Mr. deBettencourt with a notice of violation stating he had been fined $300 a day retroactive to May 1, which came to a total of $18,300.
Mr. Larkosh earlier this week called the notice of violation and the fine ridiculous.
“Fines of this nature are intended to be coercive and not punitive . . . the intent is not to see how much money you can get out of someone, it’s to get them to do the right thing. In this case, he slapped an $18,000 fine on my client for not erecting a fence, when the fence has clearly already been built,” Mr. Larkosh said.
Mr. Larkosh said the notice of violation was followed by a meeting with Mr. Wiener in which the building inspector tried to negotiate the amount of the fine.
“He tried to get us to agree the fine should be somewhere between zero and $18,000; and our position was it should be all or nothing. The very idea he was trying to come up with a figure in the middle was an indicator the entire fine was unwarranted,” Mr. Larkosh said.
Town administrator Michael Dutton earlier this week dismissed accusations that Mr. Wiener acted inappropriately. He said selectmen authorized Mr. Wiener to impose a fine calculated on the number of days the property was in violation of the special permit, and said the purpose of the fines was to protect the neighbors.