June 19, 2018

Op-Ed: Permit or Not? Chocolate Shell Zoning Issue is About a Change of Use

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.



  1. Bill folland says:

    Baloney, does any reasonable person believe that it’s all about concerned citizens assuring that a business complies with the law and if the ZBA granted the change that would be the end of it. I assure you that the Same concerned citizens would than turn around and sue the Town for not enforcing the regulations, let’s all be honest here.

  2. Lee White says:

    You are absolutely trying to shut down the Chocolate Shell. I would love to have that adorable shop in my neighborhood.

  3. Mait McNamara says:

    This explanation of your opposition to The Chocolate Shells’ addition of coffee/pastrie to its’ menu is as unbelievable as one could express. To liken The Shells minute plan to a home adddition or a LymeStreet speed limit is more humerous than serious.Barbara Crowleys interest is solely to offer a good morning warmup to her customers. Her business is absolutely run with Old Lymes interest in mind. It is spotlesslly clean and a delight to all who enter her shop.This move by Mr. Crowley in no way effects the Historical District, in no way effects the present trafic on or near either Lyme Street or Acadeny Lane. I have been a resident of this awesome town for 55 years, have seen numerous Lyme Steet changes and yet Lyme Street is still the envy of countless communities. Also having served on many town boards and commisions I would with creditably oppose this request.I therefor ask the Board to give this item their utmost thought and render a just verdict to deny the request to prevent The Chocolate Shell from its intent to enhance its operation.

    Most Sincerely,

    Mait McNamara

  4. Paul Dimitre says:

    As usual the OLPD is up to it’s agenda of anti tourism. One of my associates was walking his dog on Miami Beach headed toward Sound View Beach when one of Old Lyme’s finest got on the PA from his cruiser and warned him no animals were allowed on the beach and there would be a $100.00 fine. My friend, being the professional that he is, just reversed direction and stayed on Miami Beach which is private property. OLPD needs some lessons in courtesy and tact.

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