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YARMOUTH — Despite receiving a petition from neighbors opposed to a zoning change, town councilors eliminated a seating cap for restaurants in the Village Zone.
The 5-1 vote on June 14, with Councilor Tim Sanders opposing the move in his final meeting, clears the way for Matt Chappell to open an 80-seat restaurant at 189 Main St.
It also leaves neighbors concerned about increased noise and congestion, and fewer parking spaces.
Councilors were not voting on Chappell’s plans, a point made repeatedly by Chairman Steve Woods during deliberations and public comment that extended through two council sessions and one workshop in the last four weeks.
Removal of a 60-seat cap in the zoning law, which has existed for almost 20 years, is something Chappell said was integral to the success of his business plan.
“It is important for long-term sustainability,” he told councilors at a June 7 workshop, where his intentions drew 50 minutes of public comments.
At the workshop and last week’s council meeting, supporters of the change told councilors the restaurant could bring new life to Main Street. Residents said they look forward to eating at an affordable restaurant within walking distance of their homes.
But the arguments against eliminating the seating cap were strongest from those living closest to the former Masonic Hall where Chappell wants to serve dinner and Sunday brunch.
Initial opposition to the zoning change from Main Street residents Michael and Debra St. Laurent and Hilary MacKinnon led to the council tabling the zoning motion at its meeting last month.
When discussion was renewed at the June 7 workshop, the three continued to ask for at least a delay in allowing expanded seating because of their worries about noise, a scarcity of parking and the effects of added vehicle traffic on Main Street near where it passes under Route 1.
“I think the key question is ‘how does this affect the neighbors?,'” Michael St. Laurent said.
MacKinnon said she supported Chappell’s plans, but not at the scale he envisioned, and asked if councilors considered the future consequences of unlimited restaurant seating in a zone extending along Main Street from Portland to Elm streets.
During last week’s 35-minute public hearing preceding the council vote, York Street residents Michael and Cynthia Gengras presented a petition signed by 20 local residents opposed to the zoning change.
But council sentiment on the issue was evident at the workshop a week earlier. While not voting on a zoning change itself, councilors placed the motion to completely eliminate the seating cap on the June 14 meeting agenda.
Council comments were capped by Councilor Carl Winslow’s reminiscence of the businesses once lining Main Street and how they added to the vitality of town.
“So much has moved off Main Street that I look forward to something moving on to Main Street,” Winslow said.
After the workshop, Chappell expressed relief and gratitude.
“I’m uplifted and humbled by some people I know and some people I have not met before,” Chappell said.
Last month, Town Manager Nat Tupper told councilors the 60-seat cap was created two decades ago in response to the arrival of franchise restaurants. Limiting seating capacity and prohibiting new construction in the Village Zone was the best way to ensure Main Street kept its traditional feel.
In seeking to keep the seating cap, Michael Gengras and Main Street resident Dorothy Mathes reminded councilors of goals in the Comprehensive Plan to balance business and residential needs in the neighborhood.
Chappell’s site plan and a required parking waiver have been approved by Town Planner Vanessa Farr, who said last week there are enough provisions in local zoning to protect quality of life in the neighborhood.
The Planning Board endorsed eliminating the seating cap before councilors took up the question last month, and Farr said the endorsement was “a no-brainer for the board.”
Chappell was optimistic about what he can bring to the area.
“I believe it is a restaurant the town will embrace,” he said.
YARMOUTH — New Town Councilors David Craig, John MacLeod and Pat Thompson were sworn in June 14, while a familiar face returns as council chairman for the next year.
Councilor Steve Woods, who is also an independent candidate for U.S. Senate, drew unanimous support for another one-year term as chairman. Randall Bates was selected vice chairman.
Craig and MacLeod were elected to three-year terms on June 12, replacing Carl Winslow and Erving H. Bickford. Thompson replaced Tim Sanders, who resigned with a year left on the three-year term he won in 2010. Bickford died May 12 after a long illness.
After the new councilors were sworn in, Winslow said he enjoyed his time on the council and is confident the new councilors will enjoy the support of residents.
“This has been a nice, long journey for me and the town of Yarmouth,” said Winslow, who has also served as school superintendent and fire chief. “Yarmouth is my pride and joy.”
— David Harry