July 5, 2022

Essex Zoning Board of Appeals Denies Variance for Centerbrook Coffee Shop, Barber Shop Approved in Same Building

ESSEX— A new barber shop has won zoning approval for a nearly vacant Centerbrook building, but a separate proposal for a coffee shop in another section of the building faces other steps to win approval.

The zoning board of appeals Tuesday denied an appeal of Sotira Tubaya of East Haddam for variances of three local zoning regulations that were required for her plan to open a coffee shop in a section of 57-61 Main Street. Most of the commercial building has been vacant for over two years.

Tubaya needed variances of regulations limiting new restaurants in Essex to no more than 10 seats, restricting new restaurants within 750-feet of an existing restaurant, and restricting new restaurants on a corner lot.
The board denied the variance requests on a 2-3 vote, though the proposal received support at the public hearing from the town’s economic development commission and two residents.

Tubaya said her proposed use was defined as a restaurant, though she is planning to serve only coffees, teas, and foods prepared off site, with no on site preparation of food. “This is not going to be a full service restaurant,” she said. Tubaya maintained her hardship was the town zoning regulations restricting new restaurants that date back to the 1980s.

Peter Lucchese, the realtor marketing space in the Centerbrook building, said most inquiries about the space have been for restaurants, with parties backing off after learning of the local restrictions. John Beveridge, representing the economic development commission, said the panel is working to fill vacant commercial spaces in town, and believes the coffee shop is a “very appropriate use for the site.” Jeff Berzin and Thomas Perkins spoke in support of the appeal, expressing concern about vacant commercial space in the town’s three villages. No one expressed direct opposition to the proposed use during the public hearing.

But board members, including longtime chairman Stuart Ingersoll, contended Tubaya was asking the board to approve a use that should fall under the jurisdiction of the zoning commission. “Three variances is asking an awful lot of the ZBA,” Ingersoll said.
Board members urged Tubaya to apply to the zoning commission for a zoning amendment that would remove some of the restrictions in zoning regulations on new restaurant uses in Essex. Joseph Budrow, zoning enforcement officer, said he had spoken to Tubaya and Lucchese Wednesday and found them interested in bringing a zoning text amendment application to the commission.

The zoning commission Monday approved a special permit allowing a barber shop in another section of the 57-61 Main Street building. The barbershop planned by Meagan Wozniak of Franklin would be a walk in shop for men.