Civility and car license discussions at Select Board

By Ann Needle

Aug. 11, 2021

          The Select Board approved two Class II auto dealer licenses at its Aug. 10 meeting, yet continued its debate over whether these businesses belong at their Lower Village location, at 92 Great Rd.

          But first, the Board touched upon some sharp criticism of another Town committee at the July 27 meeting.

          “I had conversations with a number of people who were upset with things that were said in our last meeting,” Cortni Frecha told fellow Board members. Frecha later clarified her comments referenced remarks made by SB members leveled at the Community Preservation Committee July 27, claiming the CPC had declared it can do what it wants with the CPA funds, though taxpayers fuel that money.

          “I think it’s really important we set the tone as the Select Board of the town. There’s no need to criticize publicly people who are volunteers, or anyone else, for that matter,” Frecha continued. “It’s important to consider our words carefully.”

          SB Member Jim Salvie agreed. He said, “At every meeting in the recent past, one thing we could count on was someone was going to get criticized.” Quick to note he has made his share of pointed comments, Salvie said, “This is criticism of people who aren’t even here to give us the other side of the story.”

          Salvie recommended Board members with criticism of other Town boards speak privately with Town Administrator Denise Dembkoski, or to add the topic to a future Board agenda, if appropriate. He pointed to the Town of Sudbury’s official policy of demanding any Town committee members maintain civil conversations and avoided making criticism of other employees or volunteers. 

      The Board agreed the topic should be put on a future agenda for further discussion.

Car Licenses Questioned

          After a public hearing during the meeting, the Board approved the granting of a Class II auto dealer license to Austin Swinney, owner of YOLO MOTO with specific conditions including number of vehicles and hours of operations.

          Swinney descried his start-up as a dealership in mid-level specialty vehicles, selling in person and online. The location will be the garage on the back side of the property, holding about seven to eight vehicles inside, another 10 outside, and a trailer for transporting the cars, he said.

          Given that issues and legal challenges from abutters have centered on the alleged mess and noise of the site, Swinney stressed he will be focused on upkeep and “putting our best foot forward.” However, potential over-crowding stayed a debate point.

          Marvin Guiles, discussing his nearby property, said, “What you’re hearing from the abutters is the state of that property has gotten progressively worse. How is this going to make this property better, because we don’t want it to be worse.”

          One of those abutters, Dorothy Granat, asserted three Class II licenses at that site “is an increased use of that property.” She was referring to a past Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that declared the property and volume of business was grandfathered under zoning, given its past use as the Erkkinen used car business. Once awarded, Swinney would own a third license.

           Select Chair Ellen Sturgis noted the Board could set a limit to the number of vehicles in approving the license, and that it would be up for reconsideration with renewal in December.  In approving the license, the SB limited YOLO to eight vehicles inside and four outside, and approved hours and layout for the outside vehicles.

          The SB also approved the transfer of a Class II license between Infinite Auto to Car Lot Express, Inc. The Car Lot Express business was described in the license application by owner Oleskii Savcemo of Maynard as a car lot storage and maintenance facility.

          A debate over granting the license was continued from the Board’s July 27 meeting, given confusion over whether Savcemo held a Class II at his former business in Acton, Wheeler Dealer. Savcemo claimed on his Stow license application that he held the license, given he was the current owner, while the Town of Acton reported it did not have a record of Savcemo actually holding a Class II.

          At the Aug. 10 meeting, Select Chair Ellen Sturgis said she reviewed the current articles of incorporation for Wheeler Dealer and concluded Savcemo “continues to be owner, as far as we can see.” Sturgis remarked that she thought the Stow application was confusing.

          Also, Stow Police Chief Michael Sallese said he was concerned there had been a police response to Wheeler Dealer, especially as it involved upset customers. Sallese also questioned whether Public Safety would be able to maneuver around the vehicles in the lot.

          Savcemo reported the police were called in twice, both times to answer customer complaints. One customer came back, months after the vehicle purchase, to complain about things supposedly wrong with the vehicle from the date of sale. Savcemo said another client called Acton Police after Wheeler Dealer requested they sign a release form.

          Sallese acknowledged that Infinite Auto had approximately the same number of police complaints, and for similar situations.

          As for vehicle capacity, while Savcemo estimated the lot could hold 100 vehicles, the Board’s Megan Birch-McMichael suggested they approve a lower number and see how it works out, given the license is up for renewal in December. She told Savcemo, “If it’s a train wreck, we’re well within our rights not to renew your license, frankly.”

          But the Board’s Zack Burns said, “This feels different from the last Class II we just approved. I walked in, hoping to be convinced.” Instead, he remarked, he remained uncomfortable with the vagueness of Savcemo’s responses to ownership and licensing questions.

          The topic of civility, raised at the start of the SB meeting, intersected with the discussion. An audience member asked the Board to shut down remarks from the property’s owner, Richard Presti, on Car Lot Express’s potential vehicle limit, claiming the audience had been told not to discuss the property and its condition, given it was not relevant to the actual license.

          Sturgis retorted, “You keep bringing up things that are not relevant to this license transfer. I’m trying to get this done. We’re trying to work through a compromise on the numbers.” She added, “If we want to support this business, we have to stop blaming Infinite. Infinite screwed up.”

          “Civility,” Birch-McMichael interjected, though Sturgis claimed she was simply disagreeing. Birch-McMichael replied, “This is not civil. Screaming at each other will not get us where we want to be.”

          Soon after, the SB approved a Class II for 60 vehicles outside, 10 inside, with Burns casting the only “no” vote.

New employee on the way

          Denise Dembkoski announced a tentative starting date of Sept. 13 for a new assistant Town administrator. While Dembkoski added that she planned to introduce the person at the next SB meeting, she cannot say much more, given this person has not finished giving notice to everyone at her current job.

          The new assistant TA position was approved at Annual Town Meeting in May and will include Human Resources management.