Trying to find a balance between encouraging small businesses and respecting homeowner rights, Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday held a pair of public hearings on requests for home businesses in the middle of residential neighborhoods.
The separate hearings were for a home photography studio owned by Joseph Mikos of 48 Vineyard avenue and a commercial fishing operation owned by Luke Gurney of 26 Shawanue avenue, off Worcester avenue.
Mr. Mikos was granted a special permit by selectmen in 2006 with several conditions. He was called before the board on Tuesday after a neighbor complained about traffic and lights from the studio.
Mr. Gurney does not have a home business license, and appeared before selectmen after neighbors complained about delivery trucks and the storage of lobster pots and other equipment.
Partly because the town commercial district is so small, Oak Bluffs traditionally has had a high number of home-based businesses. There are currently 173 home businesses registered in town; it is widely believed there are many more that are not registered.
At the 2006 annual town meeting, voters approved a new home business bylaw establishing guidelines for businesses such as family day care, boarding houses, contractors’ yards and the overnight parking of commercial vehicles. Certain businesses are allowed under the bylaw as of right, while others need a special permit from selectmen.
On Tuesday both Mr. Mikos and Mr. Gurney came under fire from neighbors who complained their businesses were disruptive to the neighborhood.
During the hearing for Mr. Mikos’s photography studio, Charlie and Christine Barr said lights from the studio shone into their bedroom and there are many deliveries.
“I have nothing against a man doing business, but he’s right in my backyard,” Mr. Barr said. “Are we supposed to barricade ourselves in our own house so he can leave on his light at night?” Ms. Barr said.
Mr. Mikos said he is unfairly being vilified by his neighbors because they were not pleased that an auxiliary structure on his property is now being used as a studio.
“What we have is an unreasonable neighbor who doesn’t like a building on my property,” he said.
Mr. Mikos’s wife, Katherine, said there is a day care center nearby that produces more traffic and has parking for several vehicles.
Selectmen said bright lights and home deliveries are not exclusive to home businesses.
“I live in a residential neighborhood, and I have a dear, sweet lady who has the UPS truck at her house almost every day,” selectman Duncan Ross said. “[Home deliveries] are a fact of life on the Vineyard.”
Selectman Greg Coogan urged the Barrs and Mikoses to work it out.
“I think a lot is being made out of something minor . . . to use a bad pun, I hope we can get everybody to see the light here,” he said.
In the hearing for Mr. Gurney’s fishing operation, several neighbors complained about fish smells, deliveries and noise. Joanne DeBettencourt said she worried about the property attracting skunks, raccoons and rats, while Ethel Sullivan called it an eyesore.
“A commercial fishing operation in the middle of a residential neighborhood is not welcome,” Ms. Sullivan said.
Mr. Gurney said he removed a number of lobster pots previously stored on the property, and said he no longer cuts bait at home. “No bait has been chopped for at least two months and it will not start again,” he said.
Patricia Bergeron, a member of the board of health who attended the meeting, urged neighbors to be more understanding.
“This is traditionally a fishing community, let’s not forget that . . . it’s where we came from.”
But some had a different view.
“I feel the value of my house has already gone down,” one neighbor said.
Selectmen agreed to table deliberations on both home business licenses until a future meeting.