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The town of Swampcott and Family Doctors, LLC are still at odds over parking

SWAMPSCOTT — The town and Family Doctors, LLC are still at odds over parking.

Last month, Town Meeting members approved an article enforcing owners of abandoned, vacant, or blighted commercial properties to keep up with maintenance. One of those vacant buildings is the old gas station at the corner of Norfolk Avenue and Paradise Road, which Family Doctors uses for staff parking.  

In a letter sent to The Daily Item, Peter Barker, an owner and medical director of the practice, stated they reached an agreement a few years ago with Sunoco Oil Company, the vacant property’s lease holder, to sublet the parking area, given the gas station had already closed and was sitting unused.

“Before the sub-lease was finalized, the plan was presented to the former Building Inspector,” Barker stated in the letter. “We received a written decision from the town of Swampscott which approved, and even endorsed, the arrangement … “The new administration of Swampscott has unnecessarily, and we believe illegally, reversed their commitment to Family Doctors.”

Max Kasper, the town’s current building inspector, said the previous inspector did write a letter to representatives of Family Doctors expressing approval for the business to use the lot in question for parking. The letter was not quite an agreement, but more of a “comfort letter,” he said.

“We feel as though that was an incorrect determination,” Kasper said. “My own independent determination is that it is not a permissible or allowed use at the site … The property is being illegally used as a commercial parking lot. We are pursuing zoning enforcement action against the property owner to end that illegal use.”

Even after sending numerous letters, and now citations, Kasper said there has been no direct communication between the town and Sunoco Oil. He said the property owners have taken no action nor have they responded with a phone call.

“We have means to resolve and move past these violations,” he said. “We write tickets only to get in compliance and they (Sunoco) have failed to address the situation at all.”

Richard Salinsky, of Best Petroleum Net Lease, LLC, said he owns the former gas station property, which Sunoco Oil Company has leased until 2029. He said he has no knowledge of a parking sublease and was unable to provide a number for Sunoco, given he “hasn’t talked to them in years.”

The Item was unable to make contact with a representative from Sunoco.

Barker told The Item that the practice “disputed” Kasper’s claim of the agreement only being a “comfort letter.” He said there were many conversations with the previous inspector and the zoning board commission in which the parking agreement was deemed “appropriate.”

The letter to the editor was also forwarded to members of the Selectboard. Barker said he received a response from Selectman Donald Hause shortly after. According to Barker, Hause assured him that “nothing will happen imminently,” that the board plans on re-discussing this further over the summer, and representatives from Family Doctors would be included in the decision-making process.

“Since we wrote the letter, the town has been very responsive and we appreciate they’re going to take a step back and, now, understand our concerns,” Barker said.

Hause told The Item he responded to Barker’s letter only to state the passing of warrant Article 27 was not a force of action against Family Doctors, LLC, but it was a force of action against the vacant property’s owners to keep up with maintenance, along with the owners of multiple vacant properties throughout the town.

Hause said the new bylaw is a vehicle that allows the town to do the responsible thing on behalf of the town, which is to ensure all property owners adhere to the bylaws. When Hause told Barker nothing would happen imminently, he said he meant the town “won’t pull the rug from under them,” meaning they “won’t put up a notice vacating them from the vacant property within 24 hours.”

“At the end of day, we don’t want to do anything to harm their business,” Hause said. “We will do our best to work with Family Doctors to see if we can accommodate their parking once this is resolved … If Sunoco wants to sit down and come to a resolution, we’d be happy to hear what it is and work collectively with everyone. I also said in response that the first course of action should not have been to put something in the public realm, and suggested he sit down with the town administrator and the community and economic development director.”

Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said the letter to the editor was never sent to him and that these kinds of issues require thoughtful, careful conversation.

“Swampscott is the fifth-most dense community, so everybody feels the pressure of parking,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t mean we go violate zoning bylaws to deal with some of those issues.

I don’t think the best way to go about this is having it play out with letters to the editor, but, that being said, I’m happy to work with Dr. Barker and the staff over there to come up with a solution.”

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