CHATHAM – For more than two years, town officials, neighbors and Chatham Bars Inn have wrangled over the use of two inn-owned properties on Chatham Bars Avenue. After prolonged negotiations and a court-ordered remand, it appears as if all sides have agreed on the future of the properties.
Last week the zoning board of appeals approved a special permit to allow the former bowling alley at 45 Chatham Bars Ave. to continue to be used as a warehouse, but with more than half a dozen conditions. And while the board postponed a final vote, most members supported the use of the former chauffeurs' quarters at 20 Chatham Bars Ave. as offices for the inn's sales and reservation office, with two three-bedroom apartments on the second floor.
While both properties were built by the inn in 1914, the current owners of the Shore Road resort bought them in 2015. A year later neighbors complained at the former bowling alley, which had previously been used for storage, was being used after there had been no activity there for years. CBI contended a previously approved warehouse use was still legal, but the town's building commissioner disagreed, ruling that the use had been abandoned and was no longer legal in a residential zone. That and other decisions resulted in legal action.
The former chauffeurs' quarters followed a similar pattern. Last summer neighbors complained after the building department allowed a kitchen to be installed and the building was used to house CBI workers. After the summer use had ceased, the building commissioner ruled that the use constituted a dormitory, which isn't allowed in that location.
But because the lot is split between residential and commercial districts, neighbors had no objections to establishing an office use on the first floor and allowing apartments for CBI employees on the second floor.
“Since this is a transitional lot” from business to residential areas, “we think this is a good use,” said Michael Ford, the attorney for several neighbors. “At the end of the day this is a good project and one we can live with.”
The residential use will be “expressly not a dormitory,” said CBI attorney Andrew Singer. Each of the three-bedroom apartments will have a cap of four people per unit, limiting occupancy to eight.
Aside from concerns about a shared access with the Brick Block next door, zoning board members had few concerns about the proposal during a hearing last Thursday. However, they held off on voting on necessary special permits and variances until a planning board pre-application review slated for this past Tuesday.
New conditions negotiated by the neighbors, inn and town staff on the 45 Chatham Bars Ave. property took care of a number of concerns, Ford said. They pared down the number of conditions from 16 proposed last year to seven. Under the conditions, the building, which will not be altered other than a few minor changes and upgrades, will be used for interior seasonal and long-term storage of hotel property, interior storage of CBI boats during the off season, landscape equipment, a workshop and office for up to three hotel engineering and maintenance employees and parking for more than 10 inn employee vehicles.
The conditions prohibit the exterior storage of boats and do not allow beach rakes or other heavy trucks to be stored there or moved up and down Chatham Bars Avenue. Linens will be stored at the building but there will be no daily exchange to and from the inn; the transfer of linens from the warehouse to trucks was how neighbors first became aware that the building was being used after years of inactivity.
Delivery and warehouse hours will be limited to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday and will end at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays in the summer because of Chatham Band concerts, when Chatham Bars Inn is limited to one-way traffic. Landscaping would also be upgraded, Singer added.
The restrictions are a “much tighter, clearer set of conditions to really ensure this property will be well used by my client and be well received and [fit well] into the neighborhood,” Singer said.
The compromise is a “good change in the neighborhood, give a facelift to a property that has long been neglected, and one that in recent years had had problems operating in accordance with the bylaw,” Ford said.
Zoning board members said it was time to put the neighborhood dispute to bed.
“You've done what we asked you to do, you've done what the neighbors asked to do, and I think it's time to bury the hatchet and move forward,” said Robert Hessler.
Zoning board chairman David Nixon said he was concerned that there were no assurances from inn owner Richard Cohen that the conditions would be adhered to. In the past, he said, inn officials have made agreements that Cohen hasn't honored. Singer said inn general manager Gary Thulander had spoken with Cohen about the settlements and had agreed to them; if approved by the board, they would be binding on the current as well as future owners of the inn, he said.
Nonetheless, not having assurances from Cohen “troubles me greatly,” Nixon said. He cast the sole dissenting vote on the special permit for the 45 Chatham Bars Ave. property.