To the editor (this letter was originally sent to the town): I have been engaged, along with Glenn Wood of Rubin and Rudman LLP, by Thomas and Kathi Loughlin of 8 Cottage Avenue, Sconset, and John Hilton of 31.5 Ocean Avenue, Sconset, regarding permitting and regulatory matters at the Summer House. Our clients represent a larger group of 22 (and growing) concerned neighbors. On behalf of these numerous neighbors, we applaud the Town for taking swift action to address serious public health and safety concerns arising at the Summer House and its various properties in Sconset. The Summer House is a treasured institution, but as a pre-existing nonconforming commercial use in a residential zone, it appears to have drifted afar, without permits or relief, and with total disregard to the applicable rules. No one wants the Summer House shut down. Everyone wants, or should want, for it to operate within the parameters of the law, and of being a good neighbor. It is time for the rules to apply.
With regard to Board of Health rules, the Heath Department should require the Summer House to show that they are in full compliance with rules for food safety and the rules for commercial habitation. This should include not only meeting the physical conditions needed, but also operationally. That is, the Summer House should be required to submit, for approval by professional staff, a full site plan and operations manual that explains their operations and procedures and demonstrates policies for health and safety compliance. Further, they should be required to certify training and compliance with these policies periodically and provide immediate contact information for persons directly responsible for such. Moreover, the occupancy of any commercial areas should be limited not only by fire and building code, but also by applicable plumbing codes for providing bathrooms, which may not be met at some of the properties.
With regard to wiring, gas and fire safety, a full review of the premises should be done, and all such matters should be required to be brought up to standards for public health and safety. The idea that guests, staff and neighbors were literally just put at imminent risk of dire injury and death by unpermitted gas and electrical work cannot be ignored or understated.
With regard to Zoning and Planning matters, the premises appears to be in violation of the Nantucket Zoning Code and a full compliance review should be done for this matter, including the submission of a complete site plan and an operations narrative detailing what occurs on site, and how it has changed since 1972 with regard to lodging, food, alcohol, entertainment, recreation, weddings/events, and otherwise. It appears that the uses on the premises have expanded and changed in a manner that requires a ZBA permit under Section 139-33 of the Bylaw, and also separately that the premises has triggered the requirement for obtaining a Major Commercial Development Permit under Section 139-11 of the Bylaw. It also appears that there may have been work done on the premises that requires zoning relief for alterations and expansions within the zoning setback and otherwise, that may also have been done without HDC approval or applicable building permits. Even without the comprehensive review needed to address this, just the action requested in Ms. deBenedictis’ March 24, 2023 letter to the Select Board seeking to add 60 new seats at the Beach Club within the liquor permit is a clear expansion and alteration of a pre-existing non-conforming use in a way that requires ZBA relief for nonconforming uses, and requires Planning Board relief under MCD and parking requirements, as well as other bylaw provisions. Moreover, the addition of surrounding properties to the original commercial property, and the expansion of seating, activities and events also appear to trigger the same issues, for which no relief has been requested or granted.
With regard to the state Wetlands Protection Act and the local Wetland Protection Bylaw, as well as the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, the premises likely has a 100’ protection buffer running east and west from the Bluff and a 100’ protection buffer running west from the dunes, and a large portion of the beach lot is clearly mapped as endangered plant and animal habitat by Mass. Fish and Wildlife. Voluminous current and past work and activities likely fall within Conservation Commission and MESA jurisdiction but is not currently permitted. Therefore, the premises should be reviewed for alterations that appear to require either a permit from the Conservation Commission and DEP, or that may be exempt from such, but which require that such a determination be made by the Commission, not made unilaterally by the landowner.
With regard to the alcohol, food, entertainment, and other town licenses and permits, the Town should conduct a comprehensive review to assure that the applicant is in compliance, and should require the applicant to certify such, especially with regard to the locations and policies for the storage, sale, and service of alcohol.
No alteration or expansion of any permits should be allowed until full compliance is demonstrated, but the Summer House should also be allowed to reopen as soon the Town is satisfied that applicable health, safety, and regulatory requirements are met. My clients are not against the Summer House. They yearn for it to return as a vibrant part of the Sconset community – they just want it to be safe and compliant too. Hopefully the Town is able to work this out with the owners.
Steven Cohen, with Glenn Wood and Tyler Franklin