CHATHAM – The zoning board of appeals last week sided with a Chatham Bars Inn neighbor who complained that the inn's use of a vacant lot off Claflin Landing had intensified beyond its previous uses.
ZBA Chairman Robert Hessler chided CBI for failing to work with Claflin Landing resident Kathleen McCullough in what he said was essentially a “grandiose neighborhood dispute” which never should have reached his board. The inn's current ownership doesn't seem interested in reaching compromises, he said.
“They seem to want to throw the gauntlet down, and I think that's wrong,” Hessler said. While CBI is Chatham's biggest employer and is important to the town, “the town's important to them, too,” he said.
With its 4-1 vote last Thursday, the zoning board was actually upholding a cease and desist order issued by Building Commissioner Justin Post in October regarding inn activity at the 0 Claflin Landing lot. Based on complaints by McCullough, Post determined that activity on the property – including large weddings involving tents, playground equipment and special events – constituted a change in use on the 1.4 acre parcel.
CBI Attorney Matthew Kozol argued that since the lot is owned by the inn, the activity there was covered by its pre-existing nonconforming status. Weddings and special events have taken place at the inn since it opened in 1914, he said. General Manager John Spears said the 75 or so weddings at the inn annually are a “critical” part of the business, and the Claflin Landing land is used a half dozen or so times a year for weddings too large for the inn's other facilities. It's been used for weddings at least since 2005, Kozol said.
McCullough's home is surrounded by inn properties and she has complained “for some time,” Kozol said. She recently asked if the inn wanted to buy her property but the offer was turned down, he added.
Attorney Sarah Turano-Flores said McCullough has lived in the home for more than 20 years and recently the situation has become “untenable.” Tents, which sometimes tower two stories, were on the property 40 days this season, she said. The land is used for convention activities and for a bicycle race last year, she added.
“These kind of uses are clearly in excess of any form of grandfathered use that may exist elsewhere on other lots that are owned by CBI,” she said. “They're certainly new uses for this lot.”
Kozol pointed to a Barnstable Superior Court case in 2001 in which a judge ruled that the inn was a “lawful, pre-existing non-conforming use.” The lot in question has been owned by the inn from at least the 1920s.
That case, however, involved two tennis courts that were on the property before being destroyed by erosion. The inn wanted to build new courts and a croquet court further back from the water, but the zoning board denied a special permit, citing environmental concerns over having permanent structures on the waterfront parcel. The court upheld the ZBA decision.
Post said he saw the lot, which is zoned residential, as separate from the rest of the inn for zoning purposes.
Wayside Inn owner David Oppenheim backed Post, questioning whether CBI's liquor license included the Claflin Landing property. He acknowledged that CBI is an asset to the town, but said “that doesn't give them special privileges.”
Nameless Lane resident Charles Baldwin said CBI's use of the property over the Memorial Day weekend created “chaos” and made it nearly impossible to access the public beach at the end of Claflin Landing.
ZBA member David Nixon said in the past, when CBI has instituted a new use or changed the use of a building or parcel, they've gone to the board for a special permit.
“The idea that they can do whatever they want I think flies in the face of what the whole history of CBI's relationship, up to the current ownership, with the town has been,” Nixon said. The inn should request a variance or special permit to allow the increased use on the Claflin Landing property, he said.
“That would solve the whole problem,” agreed ZBA member Joe Craig.
Associate member Rick Leavitt said he sympathized with McCullough but did not think the “heavy hand of zoning should be dictating to these business owners how they should be operating.” Member Donald Freeman, the only regular member to vote to overturn Post's decision, said the fact that tennis courts were previously on the property showed that it had a history of commercial use associated with the inn.
Another CBI appeal of a cease and desist order by Post regarding continued use of a warehouse owned by the inn at 45 Chatham Bars Avenue was postponed until Jan. 26. Kozol requested the continuation because the property is the subject of a lawsuit based on a previous ZBA decision, which found that the commercial use of the property had been abandoned. A hearing is scheduled on the matter next month, and it made sense to put off the most recent ZBA appeal until then, he said.