Sliding Scale of Enforcement
For more than a decade a business owner in Scituate who hauls crushed cars has violated a directive from the town’s building official not to store scrap metal on his property. That business owner also happens to be the town council president, who is adamant that he has `grandfather rights’ to run his business. But a Hummel Report investigation that began six months ago includes documents from the town that say otherwise.
Click here to see the documents shown in the report.
On a clear and crisp Monday morning in April, Charles Collins Jr. is ready for a ride.
Collins hops in the cab of a tractor-trailer truck loaded with crushed cars that has been sitting in the driveway next to his Scituate home and adjacent business all weekend.
After hitting the road, Collins makes a quick stop for something to drink at this gas station on Plainfield Pike, then hops onto Route 295 north. His destination today: Boston. More specifically a metals recycling company just north of the city, where he drops off the load.
During the day Collins hauls scrap around various parts of New England. It’s work that he’s done for more than a decade since retiring as deputy chief of the Scituate Police Department.
But Collins wears another hat as well: on the second Thursday evening of every month you can find him at Town Hall presiding over the Scituate Town Council as its president.
A Hummel Report investigation that began six months ago shows that Collins is violating a directive from the town’s long-time building official, David Provonsil, who told Collins’ father Charles Sr. and mother Sarah more than a decade ago that it was a violation of the town’s zoning ordinance to keep the crushed cars on their property at 220 Central Pike.
So we asked Collins about after the Town Council meeting in June.
Hummel: ``You store scrap and then you take it various places, right?’’
Collins: ``I don’t store scrap.’’
Hummel: ``Well, it’s stored overnight in your truck, right?’’
Collins: ``Sometimes it is, yes.’’
Hummel: ``And didn’t the town, Mr. Provonsil, who is here now, didn’t he tell you or your father at some point 10 years ago, that that was not allowed at your property.’’
Hummel: ``And so how do you resolve that, you have scrap there overnight>’’
Hummel: ``You have scrap overnight, regularly.’’
Collins: ``He said that I couldn’t have trucks there. I had a hearing in front of the zoning board and I proved that I had grandfathered rights.’’
But the records provided by the town to The Hummel Report show that’s not the full story.
Collins’ father was grandfathered to keep oil trucks and a now-defunct school-bus business on the property, but records show that Provonsil told the Collins’s in 2005 they could not store scrap - reiterating that in a 2010 letter to a resident who complained about the crushed cars in a residential zone visible from what, by Scituate standards, is a busy intersection, Central Pike and Rockland Road.
Collins inherited the property and the half-century old business from his parents.
Hummel: ``In that directive to your father, and you worked with your father, right before he retired?’’
Hummel: ``In that directive they said, can’t have equipment on the property, you can’t store metal, can’t store scrap metal - it was pretty specific about what the business could or could not do.’’
Collins: ``That’s the letter he sent me. And I appealed it to the zoning board. And that wasn’t the outcome of the zoning hearing.’’
Hummel: ``Is that documented anywhere?’’
Collins: ``As far as I know it is.’’
The documents we obtained show there was a lengthy appeal hearing by the Collins’s before the town’s zoning board in September of 2004, six months after Provonsil sent a cease and desist order to Collins’ parents. At that hearing the zoning board voted to allow the Collins to withdraw their appeal without prejudice and have Provonsil report back in November with a clarification on the scrap metal.
He never did, and in March of 2005 the building official reiterated that ``the vehicles may not be loaded with junk or scrap visible from the abutting streets.’’
Since February we observed Collins keep scrap overnight several days a week and one or two weekends a month, parking his trailer in full view of both roads.
We wanted to interview Provonsil, who is the highest-ranking full-time staff member in town and ultimately answers to Collins and the council. In two telephone conversations Provonsil repeatedly referred to Collins as ``Chucky.’’
Collins has served for nine years on the town council, the past four as its president.
The Hummel Report received complaints from some residents about the scrap, saying that Provonsil was looking the other way because Collins, in effect, is his boss.
Provonsil denied that in an initial phone conversation. He later agreed to sit down for an on-camera interview, but called back the day before it was scheduled, saying he was quote: ``uncomfortable’’ talking with us on camera.
Provonsil, who has lived in town nearly three decades, told us in the earlier phone conversation: ``I don’t recall ever seeing any of these hauling trucks loaded with scrap’’- even though we saw them parked regularly over the past six months and Collins admits to having them there.
Provonsil, in our conversation, seemed to have a sliding scale of enforcement, saying that if Collins parked the trucks ``occasionally’’ it would be okay, but if it was on a regular basis it would be a problem.
That’s not what the documents the town provided indicate. In a 2010 letter to a resident who had complained again about the trucks, Provonsil said: ``Awhile back, I called Mr. Collins because I observed a truck with contents piled so that I could see it driving by; he indicated that was a rare occasion and due to traffic hauling tie-ups or end-use operating hour changes.’’
In December another Scituate resident filed a formal complaint with the state Department of Environmental Management, alleging that oil from delivery trucks on Collins’ property that are grandfathered into town zoning - plus runoff from the crushed cars on his trailers - were polluting Warners Pond across the street.
A DEM inspector visited the property in March. The Department provided us the 23-page report, which ultimately concluded there was no evidence of pollution.
Collins is adamant he is doing nothing wrong.
Provonsil, meanwhile, said since we’ve brought it to his attention he will keep a close eye on Collins’ property going forward.
In Scituate, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.