Friday, August 15, 2008
ZBA OKs Ferns’ expansion
Before a sparsely attended public hearing on August 7, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) grappled with three requests for variance submitted by Carlisle Center Ventures LLC, which owns and operates Ferns Country Store on property leased from the Daisy family. According to store proprietor Larry Bearfield, each of these variances would be necessary to allow planned expansion of the store. Bearfield provided architectural drawings and a short history of the parcel in support of his requests for a variance from: the maximum floor area, the minimum building setback and parking directly accessible from a public way.
Hearing the presentation were ZBA member Bill Morgan, chair Ed Rolfe and associate member Emmanuel Crespo who served in place of ZBA member and abutter Kevin Smith (recused). Bearfield began by noting that he has already met with several committees and groups, including town center neighbors, the Historical Commission and the pathways committee. “You may not see many people here tonight because we have met with the neighbors. They know what’s going on.” Bearfield added that some residents are not supportive of the sale of beer and wine in town but that, “We have not heard vocal opposition to the enhancements we are planning. It has all been very favorable.”
Plans for renovations and additions to Ferns include a building addition that would connect the existing store to the garage building (see drawing top of page). The addition would house the grocery section of the store. The existing store would be renovated, moving the deli and bakery areas to allow more working space and to comply with new food preparation codes. Bearfield affirmed last month that indoor customer seating is a long-term goal and the plan includes a small area for tables and chairs. The renovated garage would house a selection of beer and wine. A bottle and can return area at the rear of the garage section is also included in the plans. The entrance and exit doors in the existing store would become fire doors and the new main entrance would be in the addition, with doors at grade level in both the front and the rear. The architect’s drawing shows the existing store and garage with shingle exteriors while the addition is clapboard. Bearfield stated that this variation in exterior materials was designed in response to issues raised by the Historical Commission.
The board discussed all three requests before making any final decisions. They began with the parking issue. Carlisle Zoning Bylaw 5.3.3 does not allow parking that is directly accessible from a public way. Building Commissioner John Luther noted that state law prohibits a driver from backing into the road, reminding all in attendance that it is illegal to back out of your driveway. Bearfield displayed several photographs dating as far back as 1899 which show use of the parking lot area over the years. As early as 1899 the Chamberlain and Anderson store had a hitching post in the area where cars are now parked. Photos from subsequent years showed cars parked in the same area. Bearfield stated that loss of the front parking area would severely affect business and referred to this request as “a catch-up variance, allowing us to continue parking in front.”
Bearfield said he had worked closely with former Chief of Police Dave Galvin during the design of the porch and piazza to make the parking area safer. Rolfe read a letter from Police Chief John Sullivan supporting the parking plan for Ferns.
Rolfe said, “This is not a situation that is unique to your parcel,” adding to Luther, “Clearly Building Commissioners before you have opted not to enforce the parking issue.” In response to an audience question about why the store parking was not “grandfathered” since it had been in use long before the zoning by-law was written, Luther responded, “This would normally be viewed as an existing non-conforming use. If the use of the property is changed, a modification requires that things be brought up to current standards.”
Bearfield stated, “We are the first business in the center to do this type of major renovation and we are the first to run into many of these issues. Our zoning by-laws date back to the 1920s. They need to be updated. I’ve become the litmus test on all of these.”
After lengthy discussion, the board agreed that the parking area constituted a pre-existing non-conforming use and that since no substantial change in the parking area itself is planned, no variance is needed.
In relation to the request for a setback variance, the zoning bylaw 4.2.1 requires a minimum setback of 20 feet for buildings in the center business district. The proposed addition to Ferns calls for a setback of 18.7 feet from the porch to the lot line, although the addition itself is more than 20 feet from the lot line. According to Bearfield, the Historical Commission agrees that continuing the porch along the new addition will better maintain the character of the town center. Bearfield explained that a variance was granted in 2004 for the addition of the porch to the existing store, based on the fact that a concrete slab and step already existed on the space where the porch would be built. The new addition will have a continuation of the porch roof line but would be at grade level for handicapped access.
Luther explained that a landing and stairs can legally encroach into the setback. He also stated that handicapped accessibility is of foremost consideration, that the front door must be handicapped accessible and that a second means of egress must be available for everyone. Again, after long discussion, the board agreed that the porch roof and three support columns provide protection from snow and ice, aiding handicapped access and safety. For this reason a variance is not needed.
Maximum floor area
Bearfield also requested a variance from Carlisle Zoning Bylaw 188.8.131.52 which limits the maximum floor area to 2,000 square feet. With the proposed addition and renovations, the total floor area will be 2,559 square feet, an increase of approximately 27%. According to Rolfe, in order to grant a variance, the board must recognize a hardship, see no substantial harm to the public good and recognize unique circumstances related to soil, or shape or topology of the land or building. The board quickly agreed that the public good would not be substantially harmed by the proposed changes.
A longer discussion led to the conclusion that the separate garage building is a unique feature as an “outlying building” on the lot. After lengthy discussion, the board found that the garage is unique and, without a variances it cannot reasonably be used as retail space within the Carlisle Center Business District. Further, the board found that literal application of the law would cause financial hardship. The board also determined that the 27% increase in floor area was not unreasonable. For these reasons the board voted to grant a variance of section 184.108.40.206. ∆
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