By Lisa Loomis

In a tightly worded decision, the Waitsfield Development Review Board allowed the 1824 House Inn and Restaurant to expand the number of seats in its dining facility from 20 to 40.

Owners Karl Klein and John Lumbra asked the board for permission to expand from 20 to 60 seats.

The property is located in the town's agricultural district where commercial uses are not allowed. The inn is permitted under an older version of the town's zoning which defined it as a lodge and, as such, allowed for dining for the number of guests that could stay there.

The DRB heard the request for an expansion of a nonconforming, existing commercial operation in April. At the public hearing, the board considered whether the ordinance strictly prohibited the expansion of nonconforming commercial uses, or whether nonconforming commercial uses can expand if the conditional use review criteria are satisfied.

The issue is critical because Small Dog Electronics is also a nonconforming, pre-existing commercial use located in the agricultural/residential zone and was denied a request to expand business hours several years ago. The company wanted to stay open two hours longer at night and have Sunday hours twice a year.

For the 1824 House, the DRB also noted in its findings of fact that the business is located within a contributing structure in the Mad River Valley Rural Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The DRB's decision points out that the proposed restaurant expansion will take place within existing structures and no outside changes to the structure will occur.

In its conclusions, the DRB wrote that the application posed a conflicting dilemma.

"This application poses the Board with a conflicting dilemma. On the one hand, the application is to expand a use that, in 2002, the Town decided to eliminate. A 'Lodge' was deleted from the list of uses allowed within the Agricultural-Residential District and replaced with a 'Bed & Breakfast.' Because the latter use does not allow a restaurant that serves non-guest patrons, the Town effectively increased the restriction on commercial activities within that District, including eliminating the potential for additional restaurants to be established.  

At the same time, the Town opted to grant the owners of nonconforming uses greater flexibility to maintain the functional viability of their non-conforming use, including the opportunity to 'enlarge or increase' such a use provided it conforms to the conditional use standards," board members wrote in their decision.

"Section 5.3, which establishes the criteria for conditional use approval, also presents a dilemma. The character of the area 'likely to be affected' is both dependent upon the scale and intensity of the use relative to nearby properties, as well as on the long range land use and development goals for the district in which the use is located. In this case, the 1824 House's location on Route 100, and relative distance from neighboring properties (with some nearby neighbors indicating support for the expansion), may be determined to mitigate the potential undue adverse impact of the area affected.  

"However, the purpose of the Agricultural-Residential District, which is clearly designed to prevent the encroachment of commercial land uses into a rural residential area, does not make such a distinction between one part of the district and another.   

"In this case, based upon its review of the application materials, presented testimony, and Findings of Fact above, the Waitsfield Development Review Board hereby concludes that the proposed number of patrons (60), which would result in a tripling of the restaurant's capacity, would result in an undue adverse impact on the character of the area affected, as defined by the land use policies of the Waitsfield Town Plan and the purpose of the Agricultural Residential District. This conclusion is based in part on the existing maximum permitted occupancy of the Bed & Breakfast (20 guests). In light of the overnight guest capacity, the proposed expansion of the restaurant would constitute an increase in scale and intensity resulting in the restaurant becoming the dominant use of the property, rather than serving as an ancillary to the primary use," the board reasoned.

Ultimately, the board reduced the number of seats requested from an additional 40 to an additional 20 and tied future operation of the restaurant to the property being operated as a bed and breakfast. The board noted that the restaurant could only be open to the public for dinner and that it cannot be open to the public during special events/weddings or other gatherings. Finally, the board prohibited operation of the restaurant as a bar/tavern.