April 20, 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.


Op-Ed: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

By Diane Birdsall:

I attended the ZBA meeting the other night and it was the democratic process at its best and at its worst.  The issue was the cafe license or dba The Chocolate Shell ‘shop and cafe’.

I appreciate the enthusiasm Barbara Crowley has brought to her new bespoke chocolate shop. Warren Hannas, my landlord for the past four years, has made many improvements to the structure and has been a conscientious and fair landlord.

Now lets get down to SOLUTIONS to make our wonderful Lyme Street work for everyone.  Academy Lane is a small, short street and it is primarily a residential area with real people, who have their homes bordering a small complex deeded to do business.

We share front yards and backyards with residents who care and enjoy their private living space.

There has been a serious increase in parking congestion, including SUV’s backing up and squeezing in or hanging out of parking spaces along the side of Academy Lane.  People leave their cars running in winter for heat and their cars running in summer for air-conditioning while they run in.

There are Fed-Ex trucks and UPS trucks that now make two visits each day delivering boxes and ordered supplies to the businesses.  This has been a marked increase.  They too use Academy Lane as their unloading Zone and the size of the vehicle makes for one-way traffic only when they are unloading.  They are quick, but nevertheless, it happens twice a day for each carrier.

We now have two mammoth refuse trucks to unload our two dumpsters — another increase, one for recycled material and the other for refuse.  This is a nightmare maneuvering trick to witness.  The men that drive these vehicles are definitely talented about getting in and out of tight spaces … although it takes them a bit of backing up and going forward a couple of passes before they succeed sounds a-beeping the whole time.  One could do a SNL segment on this event every week.

Parking on the side of the building along Academy Lane is down right dangerous and does not work.

So let’s find a solution!

I believe there can be a decided improvement that would work for all parties.

The side of the building along Academy Lane could be a grassed in area with a curb that runs the length of the building. Possibly one handicap-only parking space could be allotted.  There is good width and plenty of street on Lyme St. to allow patrons to park and shop, I imagine they won’t leave there cars running here.  And commercial vehicles  can certainly use Lyme St. for unloading, as they do for other business that have storefronts on Lyme St.

Why not help everyone here on this issue and make doing business and living in town work for everyone.  I believe all parties are interested in accommodating the other if solutions could be found that benefit everyone.

It is a sensitive issue to have business open at 7 a.m. in what is essentially a residential neighborhood and here is an area that needs to be dealt with sensitively and carefully to make all parties satisfied.  This is an area that needs further consideration.  I guess that is another issue for future talks.

What does that mean good fences make good neighbors …it means we can have our private borders but they should be inviting and neighborly as well.  Business on Lyme Street must be neighborly it is only fair.

And as a little caveat to this opinion, I believe the town should help defray some of the costs by providing the curb [can be black-top], does not have to be granite and maybe a load or two of top soil!  Why not work together to make it a great place?

Good town planning and solutions is what makes for an inviting town for everyone.

March 20, 2014


Op-Ed: Sorry, College Shouldn’t Be For Everyone

cowgill-web-100x181_100_181_86_sha-40Shortly before the holidays, the state announced that college enrollments in Connecticut had suffered a 2-percent decline from 2012.  At a time of economic stress, when Connecticut’s public colleges are a comparative bargain that might keep more students from fleeing to other states, how could this be?  My reaction: Well, duh!

To be fair, the drop in enrollments probably has less to do with anything happening in Connecticut than it does with national trends and the upward pressure on tuitions causing students and their parents to reconsider whether such an expense is really worth it.

Read the full story by Terry D. Cowgill, published today on CTNewsJunkie.com (a fellow member of Independent Media Network (IMN)), at this link.


Op-Ed: Gun Violence Needs A Public Health Remedy

Susan Campbell argues in this column published today on one of our partner websites, CTWatchdog.com, that the nation must take a public health approach to reduce gun violence. She points out, “Labeling something a public health issue is a game-changer. It brings together researchers and policy-makers across all sectors.”

Click here to read the full column.


Op-Ed: Proposed Path to a Safer Society

Sandy Hook School is an earthquake that shakes the soul of human decency. My response:
I acknowledge the right to have a hunting rifle and a pistol for self-defense. The right to self-defense is a root of liberty. Equally important is a coincident right of people who choose not to own a gun: the right to live in a safe and secure society. This right is an indisputable expectation. While I realize this is an ideal that will be difficult to fulfill, we must, for the sake of human decency, respect, and compassion, strive to create such a society. To not strive for this goal is disrespectful and inconsiderate to all people who want to live in peace.
My proposal to create an environment that begins to lead our society down this path is as follows:
1. A gun is not sporting equipment. To equate a gun to sports is akin to saying it is no different than a tennis racquet or basketball. This is an insult to humanity. There is no comparison because their designed purposes are so different – fun and games versus a killing implement.
2. Any weapon that is capable of firing multiple rounds in rapid succession should be outlawed to anyone other than military, law enforcement or security personnel. No one in a civil society should have such a weapon, for its sole designed purpose is to kill. For hunting and self-defense there should be no need for anything more than a single-shot pistol or rifle.
3. Any weapon that uses multiple round magazines or any type of device that loads more than six bullets at a time should be outlawed. Reasons stated in item 2.
4. Anyone caught in possession or ownership of these outlawed weapons and ammunition would be in violation of the law and should be punished with extensive community service or imprisonment.
5. Anyone who currently owns such weapons described in item 2 should be paid to turn them in. They should not be grandfathered.
6. Extensive background checks should apply to 100% of sales in any form for the purchase of legal pistols and rifles.
7. A permit is required to fish. A permit should be required to purchase ammunition.
8. Internet sale of any weapon and ammunition should be illegal.
I urge everyone with a strong opinion on this subject to voice their opinion to their representatives and senators. Time is of the essence. Do not let this moment and these memories fade.
Thomas Soboleski

Op-Ed: The River Fix for Fatal Attraction

The beleaguered American Shad.

The beleaguered American Shad.

With a salmon hatchery program no longer clouding issues, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (US F&WS), National Marine Fisheries Service, and directors from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire have a singular opportunity to redeem the Connecticut River restoration.

They’re currently making choices for restoring migratory fish north to Bellows Falls, Vt., begun under the 45 year-old New England Cooperative Fisheries Compact. The decisions stem from the 1965 Anadromous Fish Conservation Act. They’ll seal this ecosystem’s fate at four federally-licensed dams and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station until 2058.

US F&WS’s Region 5 Director Wendi Weber, John Warner, and Ken Sprankle will join National Marine Fisheries’ Daniel Morris, Julie Crocker, and Mass. Fish & Wildlife’s Caleb Slater in making the decisions—with input from state directors. Their 1967 mandate is restoration of shad and herring runs to offer the public “high quality sport fishing opportunities” and provide “for the long-term needs of the population for seafood.”

Sadly, in 1980 their predecessors abandoned two miles of the Connecticut to the power company operating at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain. By allowing privatization of the river at mile 120, they killed chances of passage success for millions of American shad barred from spawning at Greenfield, Gill and Northfield, Mass., right to the foot of Bellows Falls at Walpole, N.H. at mile 172. Unwittingly, they also continued the decimation of the ancient spawning grounds of the river’s last, 300, viable federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Instead of mandating river flows and a direct route upstream to a lift at the dam, they acquiesced to diverting migrants into a power canal. That Rube Goldberg–a three-trick knot of currents and ladders, proved an utter failure to the hundreds of thousands of shad moving upstream annually through elevators at Holyoke Dam. There, via a lift built in 1955, 380,000 American shad streamed north in 1980. It’s the East Coast’s most successful fish passage; it by-passes the city’s canals.

Half or more of those shad swam upstream; but foundered in the treacherous Turners Falls complex. At the dam, just as today, some depleted their energies by treading water for weeks—washed back and forth by a power company’s deluge-and-trickle releases, finding no elevator or upstream entrance. Many eventually turned back, only to be tempted by spill from their power canal.

Fish unlucky enough to ascend the ladder there found a desperate compromise. Over 90% wouldn’t exit alive. Just as today, alien habitat and extreme turbulence overwhelmed them. Only 1-in-100 emerged upstream. For the rest, a turnaround spelled almost certain death in turbines. Others lingered for weeks in an alien canal environment, until they expired. Just as today.

This year over 490,000 shad passed Holyoke. Half or more attempted to pass Turners Falls. Just 26,000, or 1-in-10, swam beyond the dam–a percentage consistently reached in the 1980s. This is described as “success” by US Geological Survey Conte Lab scientists, Dr. Alex Haro and Dr. Ted Castro-Santos, after 14 seasons of canal study. In work garnering annual power company subsidies, they’ve attempted to model that canal is a viable migration path.

I interviewed Dr. Haro in 2007, subsequent to a 1999-2005 study finding shad passage at Turners Falls had plummeted to “one percent or less” directly on the heals of Massachusetts 1999 energy deregulation for the Northfield Mountain-Turners Falls’ complex. I asked why passage had failed there, “I wouldn’t call it failure,” Haro replied.

Fish passage saw no significant rebound until 2010, when the effects of GDF-Suez’s Northfield Mountain plant were stopped cold for 6 months—sanctioned by the EPA for massive silt dumping. Likewise, Dr. Castro-Santos’s claims to passage of one-in-10 fish as progress seem deeply troubling when his findings, after 14 years, are just now revealing shad dying “in droves” in that canal, “We don’t know why.”

In 1865, James Hooper, aged 86, of Walpole, N.H. reported: (from The Historical Society of Cheshire County (NH)“The area just below Bellows Falls was a famous place for catching shad because they gathered there but did not go up over the falls. The fish were caught with scoop nets. One spring Hooper helped to haul out 1300 shad and 20 salmon with one pull of the net.”

Citizens upstream of the 1798 Turners Falls Dam need not accept the dead shad runs and severed ocean-ecosystem of the last 214 years at a dam operated to cull price-spikes from the electricity “spot market.” An 1872 US Supreme Court decision against owners of Holyoke Dam mandates passage of the public’s fish.

Nor do citizens from Old Saybrook, Conn., to Bellows Falls have to accept endangered sturgeon, a lethal canal, and a dead river at mile 120. After 32 years of fatal attraction at Turners Falls, its time to stop steering fish into a canal death trap. Holyoke proves that’s possible.

Editor’s Note: Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield, Mass. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.