After hearing from several neighbors concerned about increased traffic and the appropriateness of a business in a residential neighborhood, the New Ipswich Zoning Board continued a hearing on a variance request to allow a business for a tea party event in Village District I on Thursday.
Jane Elwell, owner of Silver Scone Tea on River Road, ran the business, which hosted tea party events in her historic home and garden, until she received a cease-and-desist order from the city in June for failing to obtain the proper zoning permits. to run a business in the rural area.
Elwell is now seeking a variance to the Village District I zoning, which allows certain businesses by special exception, including inns, bed and breakfasts, nursing homes and daycares. She was previously before the District Council in September.
Elwell’s attorney, Robert Fasanella, argued that her tea business, which she proposed would operate no more than four days each month, would have an overall smaller impact than any of the permitted businesses that would have day-to-day operations.
Before hearing from the props, the board and Fasanella reviewed some items the board had requested additional information on, including a list of proposed conditions if the board approves the variance and more information about a proposed 18-space parking lot.
Complaints about parking on River Road and Currier Road were among the main issues that prompted the cease-and-desist order this summer. Elwell proposed solving the problem by creating a parking area on her property that could accommodate up to 18 cars, as well as additional parking in her driveway to provide handicap access.
The board questioned Elwell about access to the parking lot, which is accessible only by an unpaved road on conservation land maintained by the Monadnock Conservancy. Council members were mainly concerned with how the road would be maintained.
“I guarantee you, with that kind of use, you’re going to have to remove the topsoil and put in gravel or some kind of foundation,” said ZBA Chairwoman Wendy Juhnevichs-Freeman.
Elwell said he has a “good working relationship” with the Monadnock Conservancy and that the road has been graveled in the past and now has some road base. According to Elwell, the Monadnock Conservancy and the town’s road agent have inspected the road and driveway entrance and no upgrades are needed at this time. Elwell said he will work with the conservancy on any maintenance that needs to be done with their permission.
Board member David Lage asked Elwell to come back with a letter from the Monadnock Conservancy that more clearly outlines the process for maintaining the road.
The board also reviewed terms proposed by Elwell and her representation, which included provisions that she would operate as an “occasional dining establishment,” as defined by state law, and that hours of operation would be no earlier than 9am and no later than 9pm, although most events are expected to take place between noon and 5pm
The maximum number of guests at one time will be 50. Guests will be limited to the house and backyard area and will not be allowed to enter the front or side yard where they will be visible from River Road or Currier Road.
Nancy Clark, an attorney representing a group of props and nearby neighbors, spoke against the variance, noting the safety problems caused by parking lot congestion, which in the past has included parking on both sides of the road, narrowing the lane and blocking alleys to her clients.
Juchnevics-Freeman asked if limiting parking to the newly constructed parking lot would solve the problem for Clark’s customers. Clark said he doubts the unpaved lot would be adequate or fully accessible during the winter or mud season.
Clark also said the traffic caused by the events, which can include multiple seatings in one day, is inappropriate for a residential neighborhood.
“We are not complaining about the business itself or the applicant. This is the place,” Clark said.
Clark also alleged that despite the cease and desist order, Elwell went ahead with a pre-advertised event framed as a private gathering of friends rather than a paid event.
Fasanella asked for an opportunity to respond to comments made by Clark and other props, but Juhnevichs-Freeman said he would be allowed to respond to the comments after all props have had a chance to speak. The meeting continued before Fasanella could respond to the comments, but Juhnevichs-Freeman repeated assurances that there would be time for either Elwell or Fasanella to respond to public comment before the board deliberated.
Louise Delpapa of River Road said she would not have purchased her property if she had known an event venue would eventually be developed in the neighborhood.
“It’s a significant increase in traffic,” Delpapa said.
River Road resident Stanley Zabierek said the business, in its early days and during COVID-19, “started with almost no notice in the neighborhood” but has become increasingly popular and disruptive. He called building a car park in the middle of a housing estate a “ridiculous idea” and that the proposed screening measures were like “trying to hide an elephant in a sandbox”. He said the business has outgrown what the neighborhood can handle.
After hearing from several users, the board voted to continue the hearing until December 1st at 7:00 PM at the New Ipswich Town Offices.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or [email protected] She is on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.