YARMOUTH — Matt Chappell has a fresh idea for downtown dining, but it is one that has left a sour taste in the mouths of some Main Street residents.
Chappell would like to open an 80-seat restaurant at 189 Main St., in the former Masonic Hall. The building, across the street from the American Legion Log Cabin where local government boards meet, is also the former site of the Clayton’s and Haggerty’s restaurants.
His restaurant plan requires only an administrative review, Town Planner Vanessa Farr said. But having 80 seats requires a zoning change councilors will now discuss at a June 7 workshop, before a possible June 14 vote.
At their May 17 meeting, councilors tabled a motion to increase or eliminate a 60-seat cap on restaurants in the Village Zone where Chappell plans to open. The decision was made after Hilary McKinnon and Michael St. Laurent and his wife, Debra, spoke in opposition to the proposed change.
Chairman Steve Woods emphasized the council has no say in Chappell’s intention to open a restaurant serving dinners of locally raised vegetables, meats, poultry and fish.
Chappell, a West Main Street resident, said increasing the seating cap is essential for his success.
“I believe 80 seats are important for the space involved and our business model,” he said. “We mean to be approachable and affordable.”
McKinnon, who has lived on Main Street for nine years, said it is the scale of Chappell’s plans she objects to. Eliminating the seating cap will lead to consequences councilors had not considered before she and her neighbors spoke up, she said.
“The point was to restrict downtown village enterprises,” McKinnon said, referring to an ordinance Town Manager Nat Tupper said was enacted about 20 years ago as the town grappled with the arrival of franchise restaurants with drive-through service.
It was an effort to preserve the village character, where zoning rules had not existed. But Tupper said 60 seats was “somewhat arbitrary.”
Farr approved a waiver to count up to 17 parking spaces on-site, on-street and at the the Log Cabin and Town Hall to accommodate for the potential of 80 seats if councilors approve a zoning change.
Acting as advisers, Planning Board members have recommended eliminating all seating restrictions in the Village Zone, Tupper said.
McKinnon said the council needs to consider additional parking demands for restaurant employees, and Chappell’s plans to serve dinners and Sunday brunches will add noise and congestion along Main Street when they least need it.
“To finally have some peace and quiet on evenings and weekends is such a blessing,” McKinnon said.
The St. Laurents live next door to the former Masonic Hall, now occupied by retail businesses.
“It is clearly a (‘not-in-my-back-yard’) discussion, but why would I not be concerned?” Michael St. Laurent asked councilors.
Farr and Tupper said municipal views about parking have evolved over the years, in part to combat sprawl created by surrounding businesses with parking lots that are rarely more than half-filled.
The Village Zone extends from around Portland Road to Elm Street. Surveys have shown a desire for a restaurant in the area, but McKinnon said she doubts one the size planned by Chappell will draw more pedestrian than vehicle traffic.
“We asked for things on a certain scale and I don’t think this is in keeping with what towns people have asked for,” she said.
The objections from McKinnon and the St. Laurents resonated strongly with Councilors Tim Sanders, Leslie Hyde and Andrew Kittredge. Councilors voted 5-0 May 17 to table the motion to change the zoning.
“I think it is dangerous to change the zoning ordinance,” Sanders said, adding it could hurt property values while setting a bad precedent.
Chappell said he is confident a clearer picture of his intentions will alleviate worries neighbors have about his plans.
“It was a bit of a surprise to get some resistance,” he said, “but I would be concerned as well.”
Plans to open a restaurant at 189 Main St. in Yarmouth have neighbors concerned about a possible zoning change, increases in traffic and noise, and a loss of parking.