November 21, 2018

Chester Zoning Board of Appeals to Consider Proposed Market That was Denied by Planning and Zoning

CHESTER— The zoning board of appeals will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed organic market in a vacant building at 56 Middlesex Avenue that was rejected by the planning and zoning commission in November as an illegal expansion of a non-conforming use.

The special permit denial led applicant Peter Kehayias to file an appeal in Middlesex Superior Court. Kehayias, a local resident, has now applied for seven variances of zoning regulations that would allow the market with a ten-seat cafe area to go forward. The ZBA hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street.

Kehayias has been trying since last summer to win zoning approval of an organic market in the vacant structure at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154. An initial special permit application that included a ten-seat cafe area was withdrawn in September after some members of the planning and zoning commission suggested Kehayias present a new application without the seating area for on-site consumption of food and other items.

But a revised special permit application without the cafe seating area was denied on a unanimous vote of the panel in November after a public hearing that began in October. Commission members maintained the market would be an illegal commercial expansion of a non-conforming use because the plan called for enlarging the structure to make room for storage coolers. Members voting to reject the application were commission chairman Michael Joplin and members Jon Lavy, Janet Good, Steven Tiezzi, Steven Merola, Errol Horner, and Keith Scherber.

Kehayias, represented by Middletown lawyer Jennifer Farrell, appealed the decision in December with a lawsuit that contends the commission’s decision was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. The lawsuit also contends that one or more members of the panel should have disqualified themselves from considering the special permit application because they had a “personal interest or bias toward the property and proposed use,” including an alleged previous attempt to purchase the property by one member, and other members’ ownership or business interest in properties in the nearby downtown village.

The lawsuit contends there was a conflict of interest for one or more commission members because the market would provide economic competition for their business interests in Chester village. The 56 Middlesex Avenue structure, which has been vacant for about two years, is located directly across from the intersection of Middlesex Avenue and Main Street leading to the downtown village.

The lawsuit also contends commission members “misled” Kehayias with the suggestion that he submit an application without the cafe seating area, and that one or more members of the panel missed portions of the public hearing and did not review tapes or transcripts of the hearing.

Kehayias is seeking variances of the minimum setback and non-conforming use/change of use provisions of Chester Zoning Regulations.