It was a full house at the Marion Planning Board meeting on February 4 as the board heard the arguments at a public hearing for and against a proposed neighborhood lounge in the village.
Mike Achilles, the applicant for the Minor Site Plan Review and Special Permit to open proposed bar/restaurant at 149/151 Front Street, gave an impassioned presentation for his concept of a gathering place to be located in the former Book Stall property.
Achilles, his wife, and four children live four blocks from the location and “have a vested interest in the building,” Achilles said. As a parent, Achilles went on, he felt that the village was missing a quiet place for friends to gather after work or after the kids had gone to bed, to catch up and socialize. His intention would be to serve spirits, wine, food, and desserts, and described the look of the establishment as reminiscent of an old library, adding, “It’s not just a bar … it’s an experience.”
Achilles appeared to be cognizant of the impact his proposed restaurant could have on the neighboring businesses. He said that the hours of operation he chose – opening at 3:00 pm and closing by 10:00 pm – would not compete with the hours of the restaurant located across the street who would share the very clientele Achilles is trying to attract.
There is a maximum occupancy of 50 people, including employees, and Achilles proposes 20 seats.
The business is located in a Limited Business District, which reduces the required parking to 70 percent of the normal requirement; therefore, Achilles must provide approximately 18 off-street parking spaces. However, the Planning Board may reduce that number if they believe the business does not warrant that number and may take into account nearby on-street parking.
Achilles also suggested that many of his customers would walk to the lounge from their homes nearby and said he does not intend to advertise his business outside of Marion. In addition, he indicated that he has a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Hiller Oil next door to use five parking spaces behind the building for employee parking in the evening. Lastly, Achilles is hoping the Island Wharf public parking lot could be another source for parking for his customers. He stressed that he would actively work to keep people out of the private parking lot shared by other nearby businesses.
After an inquiry from board member Kristen Saint Don-Campbell, Achilles noted he intends to place signage on his doors and menus educating his customers about the appropriate places to park. Achilles has spoken with the fire chief and will address any fire safety issues. The building commissioner has suggested the ADA required ramp might need to be moved to the left side of the building.
Board member Eileen Marum raised the issue that would be repeated all evening – the use of the Island Wharf municipal parking lot to subsidize a business for the fulfillment of its off-street parking.
Achilles maintained that the lot is public parking, and, as such, would be available to his business as much as for any other use. He also said he did not think there would ever be as many as 20 cars parked for his establishment.
Board member Andrew Daniel expressed enthusiastic support, saying, “I applaud you and your ambition to start a new business – I applaud your thoughtfulness … and visiting other businesses. [The Island Wharf] is a public parking lot. We can’t pick on this business – parking is an issue in the village. We should support small business if [it is] allowed by law. Competition is good! It improves the character of the village.”
When board member Norm Hills asked if Achilles had spoken with the businesses across the street about using their lot, Achilles described the issue as “contentious”. Hills observed that the board should speak with town counsel about the use of the Island Wharf to determine if it is public or resident-only parking and its use to fulfill parking requirements by a business.
Acting Chairman Steve Kokkins suggested the board ask town counsel, if the intent for the bar changed with a future owner, could the board tie the special permit to Achilles’ ownership.
Kokkins also asked Achilles to describe whether the business was a bar or a restaurant. Achilles said he would be applying for a pouring license with the state and would be considered a restaurant because 45 percent of his revenue would be from food.
Marum asked about the waste management plan and noise control. Achilles said there would be a dumpster on the left side of the building, allowed through the agreement with Hiller, which he would replace with daily trash pick-up if necessary. The restaurant, Achilles said, would be a “mature lounge” that closed by 10:00 pm and he did not anticipate any noise issues.
Kate Ross, owner of the restaurant across the street, rose to address the board. She enumerated two main concerns about the project: parking and competition. While she described herself as pro-business and “all for competition and critical mass,” parking, she said, is always an issue in the village.
Ross has been in business for six years, and the private lot she shares with the General Store is paid for through her rent and maintained by the landowner. She has had issues with people parking in the lot to go to the beach, to go shopping in the village, or go to the post office. She suggested that a person going to Achilles’ bar would take up a space for, at a minimum, an hour. She questioned whether the change of use of the proposed location would trigger the bylaws requiring off-street parking.
Ross also questioned the ability for Achilles to sustain his business relying strictly on Marion residents. She said, “Every winter I go into debt to keep the lights on because it is a meeting place. … I don’t shut down because my staff needs their paycheck. My business would not survive without people from out of town.”
Peter Douglas of 226 Front Street said he considered the proposal to use the Island Wharf parking lot a subsidy to a small business.
Mary Verni, president of the Sippican Woman’s Club, expressed concern about the possible noise from the restaurant impacting the club’s tenants in the two apartments in their building at 152 Front Street. In addition, Verni noted that people attending the club’s evening events might have trouble parking, which could affect the club’s ability to fundraise for their mission of giving scholarships in the community.
While Andrew Bonney of 22 Main Street “loved the notion [of being able] to get together without being a place you need a membership,” and while he appreciated all the effort the Achilles family has put into the proposal, he also thought the business should be compliant with all regulations.
“On-street parking is using public space,” Bonney said, and he pointed out that the Inn at Shipyard Park in Mattapoisett has a similar issue with overflow parking at the wharf and may be good for reference.
Dan Crete of 69 Holmes Street spoke in favor of the business, saying, “A little bit of competitiveness is good, [and there is] capacity to support similar businesses.”
As a member of the Master Plan Implementation Committee, Crete felt this proposal fit well into that plan, but warned the board that there will be a lot of “collisions between the Master Plan and current bylaws.”
Kokkins summed up the discussion with the suggestion that the board put a list of questions together for town counsel to answer. The hearing was continued to February 19.
In other business, the board was asked for comments by the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding an application for a Special Permit by Stephen and Jane McCarthy at 43 Dexter Road to raze an existing house and rebuild in the same location, in a velocity zone. Hills stated that he “took exception to the discussion” that the new structure is “less non-conforming” than the existing one. He believed that the applicants measured from the wrong point on the property to make the case that the new house was farther from the velocity zone. In addition, Hills did not agree with the applicant’s contention that the structure was “in accordance with other structures in the area.” The board’s comment to the ZBA simply stated, “The applicant’s statements on degree of nonconformity need to be carefully reviewed for accuracy.”
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for February 19 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Planning Board
By Sarah French Storer