By Jane Schellens:
In response to the question posted in a comment on the LymeLine: “What exactly is at the basis of the complaint against the Chocolate Shell selling coffee and a pastry on this tiny, charming corner in our town”, the issue is that no application for permit with the zoning office was filed for prior to changing the use from a retail chocolate shop to a retail chocolate shop and new café. The entire zoning review process was ignored. This property is a non-conforming, retail commercial use in a residential zone. As such, this property is held to a certain standard to ensure that it does not expand its non-conformity.
All neighbors love the Chocolate Shell retail store, and want to see its continued success. It has been a fixture in our neighborhood that has been enjoyed by people of all ages across Southeastern CT for 30+ years.
The issue at hand, however, is not about the Chocolate Shell retail store that we all love. This is about a new café, in what was formerly the office in the back of the Chocolate Shell, that was opened without obtaining any permits … and that is illegal. If you want to put an addition on your house, you have to ensure it meets with applicable zoning laws and obtain a permit. If you want to change the use of your home and open a bed & breakfast, you have to ensure it meets with applicable zoning laws and obtain a permit. This is no different. The law, is the law, is the law & it is the reason our town is so wonderful. One might think the speed limit on Lyme Street of 25 mph is too slow, but it is the law.
Some are asking what the big deal is about selling coffee and pastries? The big deal is that this is a change in use, and like it or not, seemingly small or not, a change in use requires zoning review and approval. Are you not speeding if you are only going 29 mph on Lyme Street? Is a neighbor who adds on to their house within the setback without approvals not violating zoning laws if they only go 5 feet into the setback? Is a neighbor who operates a Bed & Breakfast only on weekends without approvals not violating zoning laws? While seemingly inconsequential to some, these are all violations of the law.
The Chocolate Shell has changed and expanded its use without applying for the necessary permits. Those of us who have been regular customers of the Chocolate Shell for the last 30+ years know that the addition of freshly brewed beverages made on premises & pastries heated for your pleasure, to be consumed at one of a dozen new tables outdoors on the front lawn on Lyme Street or the terrace on Academy Lane, with its newly configured fencing, all the while enjoying free wi-fi, is a change in use and intensity. You can enter the café using the new entrance on Academy Lane and never set foot in the retail candy store. The fact that the Chocolate Shell as a retail store did not require oversight from the health department but now requires an annual inspection and licensing by the health department underscores that this is a change of use.
Had the permitting process been followed from the beginning, there would be no issue at all. This change in use to add a cafe to a retail chocolate shop would have been either approved or denied … I don’t know what the outcome would have been. What I do know is that the neighbors are not trying to shut down the Chocolate Shell retail chocolate shop as is being portrayed. We’re simply asking that the proper zoning procedures and the rule of law be adhered to. Zoning is here to protect us … this time it’s my neighborhood … next time it could be your neighborhood.