Council grants moped licenses

Sat, 01/08/2022 - 7:15am

The five moped operators appeared before the New Shoreham Town Council on Tuesday night to request renewals of rental licenses for the 2022 summer season. Always a contentious affair, last year’s renewal process went on for several months and required the town’s legal counsel to log a few hours before the council finally granted the licenses by a four to one vote.
Council Member Mark Emmanuelle got the proceedings started with a flourish, declaring himself the “thorn in the side” of the moped operators, citing his three decades of anti-moped activism. He said he would not be able to vote to grant the licenses without a “comprehensive plan” to move forward. Emmanuelle compared a favorable vote on mopeds to voting for a carnival with a “Ferris wheel in disrepair.” He further stated he wanted to schedule a meeting with the moped operators to discuss one of three options he considered acceptable: a buyout by the town, removal of the moped businesses through eminent domain, or a new agreement with the town that was “generous to the town and its overburdened public services.”
While Council Member Keith Stover said he did not disagree with the “philosophical underpinnings” of Emmanuelle’s position, he reminded the other councilors that under Rhode Island law there was no real basis to deny the applications. “As offended as I am by the businesses, we don’t have the ability to simply reject the licenses,” Stover said. He did reference the upcoming consent agreement negotiations that the town and the moped operators must engage in to make a formal agreement for 2023 and beyond. The current agreement runs out in 2022, and as it is currently written, it caps the number of mopeds per operator at 34 and provides that neither side will seek to change the status quo through legislation.
Second Warden Sven Risom said he hoped the council and moped operators would be able to engage in a “good, productive discussion” as they negotiate a new agreement. Emmanuelle countered that he felt that “the buck stops here,” for this “perennial issue.”

Council Member Martha Ball said she hoped the council and the moped operators could “pick up where we left off before Covid” and could move in a “positive direction.”

Moped operator John Leone agreed, saying that he hoped the group could “focus on the positives.” He mentioned the safety commission that the town used to have, and asked for it to be re-formed as a committee that could address issues and problems with the mopeds. “It went away, and it never should have happened. Going forward, we should revisit that,” Leone said.
Leone spoke to The Block Island Times after the meeting, reiterating that “working together is the best direction to take.” He said all the fighting between the town and moped operators doesn’t get anywhere, and the money spent on decades of legal fees could be better spent on more resources for the town’s police department. Leone went on to praise the work Chief Matt Moynihan did over the past summer, and said that the chief had demonstrated that working together with the moped operators can make things better.

“The state gave the town the right to regulate mopeds, but it did not have the intention that the town would put us out of business,” Leone said, referring to the sentiments expressed by Emmanuelle. Leone further addressed Emmanuelle’s comments by saying that he would be open to negotiation for a buyout. He also said that he thought the moped owners and the town should renew the consent agreement, rather than either side fighting for changing the regulations through the state legislature.
There has been considerable fighting in the past, with the two sides ending up in court numerous times over the years.

There was controversy with the renewals this year too. One company, Miles Unlimited, is alleged to operate out of Island Moped’s space. Per the town ordinance, the moped operators must conduct their business from the sites they declare in their applications. While this malfeasance has been alleged in the past, it has not actually been documented, much to the chagrin of some town councilors. When asked if a license could be withheld for past zoning violations, Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla explained that for zoning violations, a notice must be written, an appeals period must be observed, and the remedies enumerated under state law must be followed. None of those things have happened, and the moped shops are currently closed for the season.
Looking ahead, Risom pointed out that if Miles Unlimited is not operating from its actual location this summer, it would be a violation.

Island Moped’s license was also seemingly in jeopardy, as its application listed two lots to operate from instead of one. Attorney Mark Hagopian spoke for Island Moped, and said that historically, the moped operator, Mike Finnimore, has applied for and used both lots. Finnimore owns both lots and they are contiguous and located behind the Harborside Hotel.

After much debate, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford stated, and Town Clerk Millie McGinnes confirmed, that while the applicant had historically applied for both lots, only one lot had historically been approved. The exception was in 2018, when McGinnes explained that a new clerk had made a mistake in typing up the actual license and had included both lots. That mistake has since been remedied, and the
licenses have continued to reflect only one lot since that time.
Merolla let the council know that since the application was for a renewal, and the 2021 license was for only one lot, the council was not denying the application, so much as renewing the existing license for one lot only.
In the end, the council voted four to one to approve the license renewals for all five moped operators, with Emmanuelle voting no.