Court Rules in Favor of Inn, ZBA

The Massachusetts Superior Court has ruled in favor of codefendants Nils Johnson/Vintage 13 LLC and the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals in a two-action civil suit brought by plaintiffs George and Maureen Butler.

            The Butlers had taken two civil actions against Vintage 13 LLC, aka The Inn on Shipyard Park, after the ZBA ruled in the Inn’s favor allowing repairs and modifications to the decaying building at 13 Water Street. The Butlers are abutters residing at 9 Water Street and own two lots to the west of the Inn, which is separated from the Butlers’ buildings by a 10-foot-wide driveway.

            “I have to find a contractor who isn’t too busy to bid the job,” said Johnson, noting that the Inn’s porch was an afterthought built in the 1970s and never meant to last for decades. Johnson took control of the Inn in 2012 and after leasing the property for less than two years, bought it.

            The ZBA’s decision granting a special permit includes a 3-foot increase in the building’s overall footprint to, as Johnson put it, “give people a little more space and making it safer for all.”

            Improvements, repairs and renovations will also include the second-story balcony space to “give the building more curb appeal and more accessibility to everyone,” said Johnson, who cited years of unrelenting weather making the planned repairs more urgent. In 2018, he added a rear vestibule at a cost of $16,000 meant to mitigate sound from live music.

            “We’re obviously disappointed with the result,” said attorney James Rosenblum of Brewster-based Senie & Associates, the Butlers’ representative, in an email to The Wanderer. “We felt we did a good job of getting evidence before the court that the sounds from the Inn are a lot more disturbing than they were in the 1960s era of Irving Bookstein.

            “We believe that the operations of the Inn have both exceeded their bounds as a prior nonconforming use and have constituted a nuisance, and we’re disappointed that the court did not find that. We have no comment on any appeal or posttrial motions at this time; we are still reviewing the decision.”

            The first civil action taken by the Butlers challenged the ZBA’s decision to award a special permit for repair and expansion of the Inn’s front porch.

            The second civil action sought judicial review of the ZBA’s denial of the Butlers’ petition to enforce Mattapoisett’s zoning bylaws that would have prohibited Johnson from operating the Inn as a nightclub to reduce maximum occupancy and to eliminate “obnoxious” noise. The civil suit also alleged that the Inn is a nuisance.

            A total of 23 witnesses and 47 exhibits were brought into the case.

            “Obviously it was nice to see that the town’s decision was upheld, that the ZBA was doing the right thing,” said Mattapoisett Town Administrator Mike Lorenco, who noted that the court pointed out that the Inn’s purpose has not changed in many years. “Now the Inn can make the needed improvements and continue to be the center of the village that people can enjoy – it’s a landmark.”

            Courts findings included information indicating that in Johnson’s ownership/management era, the Inn makes less noise and closes earlier than it had during the prior two owners’ eras. After tensions between the parties escalated in 2015, the Butlers hired Jeffrey Kornrower, a sound engineer, to measure the noise level coming from the Inn and made complaints about specific performers.

            The Inn did not play live music between the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the trial.

            While an appeal remains possible, Lorenco hopes that in 2022 everyone will be good citizens working together amicably. “The town never wants to get in the middle of a dispute,” he said.

            Lorenco thanked former Director of Inspectional Services Andy Bobola for the years he worked on the case and former Police Chief Mary Lyons, whose department was often called upon to answer complaint calls during the dispute.

            The Butlers declined comment at this time.

            Among the oldest operating inns on the east coast, the Inn on Shipyard Park was built in 1799.

By Mick Colageo and Marilou Newell

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