CHATHAM – Chatham Bars Inn is once again tangling with the zoning board of appeals over the fate of its property at 45 Chatham Bars Ave.
Zoning board members were skeptical of a recent appeal filed by the inn seeking a special permit to operate a warehouse and office at the building, once the town's bowling alley. A previous appeal regarding the same property, board members noted, remains open, and is subject to a lawsuit filed by the inn.
Board members said they'd rather see that original appeal resolved than vote on the special permit request.
In what has become a complex trail of orders, denials and appeals, the fate of the 9,500-square-foot building, which sits on a 34,800-square-foot parcel zoned for residential use, appears to rest in the hands of Barnstable Superior Court. It is there that the inn appealed the zoning board's decision last year to uphold the building commissioner's order that use of the building cease.
Originally a garage built in 1914 as part of Chatham Bars Inn, the building went through several uses, including the bowling alley, before it became a warehouse in the 1970s. In recent years, however, the building went unused until CBI purchased it once again in September 2015, and soon thereafter began use it as a transfer station for laundry. That drew the attention of neighbors, who complained of late-night and early-morning noise from trucks. Building Commissioner Justin Post determined that the building had not been used for at least two years, and therefore its nonconforming use – a commercial warehouse in a residential zone – had lapsed. He ordered CBI to stop all activity at the site, not once but twice.
The zoning board turned down the first appeal of that order, determining both that the use had lapsed and that a the previous special permit allowing the warehouse use in the residential zone had been invalidated due to a change in ownership. That decision led to CBI filing suit, claiming that the building had been used for “dead storage” all along and the use had never lapsed. An appeal of the second cease and desist order is still pending.
The most recent proposal, which has also been before the planning board, requests use of the property as storage for the inn, parking for its vehicles, boat storage and a small office and workshop, with specific restrictions on hours of operation and other factors. This was apparently hammered out by the inn, the town's attorney and neighbors as a settlement of the lawsuit.
“There's been a lot of progress since last year,” CBI attorney Andrew Singer told the ZBA earlier this month.
“We've worked very hard on this matter,” agreed Michael Ford, the attorney for several neighbors, noting that both sides have agreed on a set of conditions. Other than some changes in fencing and landscaping, the building and lot would remain pretty much as is. However, there was disagreement over which section of the bylaw could grant the relief the inn was seeking, and could run afoul of the bylaw's prohibition on use variances.
He suggested a better way to resolve the situation was to have the court remand the case to the ZBA to make a determination on the status of the previous use.
“That opens up the findings of the board and allows you to look at it,” Ford said. Singer disagreed.
“I believe that this completely does comport with what the judge is asking us to do,” he said of the inn's latest appeal.
ZBA member Robert Hessler said the inn was being “slightly disingenuous” in the uses it was requesting.
“You're asking us to give you permission to put whatever you damn well please on that property based on what's allow” in other districts, he said. The 16 conditions would also be a hard to enforce. “It's a nightmare for somebody to have to manage that type of oversight. I think there's got to be a better solution.”
Singer said the proposal was based on months of discussions with town officials and the neighbors. “We did not tailor the use to what we thought was otherwise allowed,” he said.
Given the leaning of the board, however, he agreed to consult with CBI's legal team and town counsel about seeking a court remand of the case.
The appeal was continued to May 25 and last week extended to June 8 at Singer's request.
Meanwhile, CBI has requested a continuation of the appeal of the second cease and desist order on the property to Sept. 28.