October 1, 2022

Chester Planning & Zoning Denies Seating Request for Route 154 Market

Chester's Organon Market, located at 56 Middlesex Avenue.  (photo by Jerome Wilson)

Chester’s Organon Market, located at 56 Middlesex Avenue. (photo by Jerome Wilson)

CHESTER— A divided planning and zoning commission Thursday denied a request to amend a 2011 special permit approval to allow limited seating at the Organon Market on Route 154. The request to remove a special permit condition prohibiting seating and on site consumption of food was rejected on a 5-4 vote.

Local resident Peter Kehayias, who is a member of the commission, had petitioned the panel to amend it’s September 2011 special permit approval for the market to eliminate the restriction on seating and on-site consumption of food and allow either 12 chairs or two benches for market customers. Kehayias, operating under the name 56 Middlesex Avenue LLC, had acquired the property and won commission approval to open a retail market in 2011. Kehayias had recused himself from participating in the commission’s review of his own zoning petition.

The building at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154, was previously used as a gasoline station, and most recently as a bicycle repair shop. It had been vacant for several years before the market opened late last summer. The property is a non-conforming commercial use in a residential zone, with the commercial use predating the town’s approval of zoning regulations in the 1960s.

Kehayias, through Deep River lawyer Jane Marsh, had asked the commission at a March 14 public hearing to allow the limited seating as a convenience to customers. Marsh noted that many customers are already consuming items brought at the market on the property, including the parking lot. There would be no table service, with Kehayias maintaining he has no plans to attempt to turn the market in to a restaurant-style operation.

The request to allow limited seating drew support from some residents at the March 14 hearing, but also strong opposition from several nearby residential property owners. Many of the nearby residents had also opposed the original special permit application for the market in 2011.

After receiving a legal opinion from commission attorney David Royston advising that the panel has the authority to amend special permit conditions, commission members took sharply diverging positions on the request during more than an hour of discussion at Thursday’s meeting. Commission alternate Mel Seifert contended removing the permit condition would represent an illegal expansion of the non-conforming use “to a fast food restaurant or deli.”

Seifert also maintained removing the condition would set a precedent that would open the door to possible future expansions of the non-conforming use in to a possible restaurant if Kehayias were to sell the property. “If we grant this petition we create a new non-conforming use which others in the future could use to continue this illegal expansion,” he said.

But commission member Errol Horner maintained it was a stretch to suggest that allowing two benches in the market would create a fast food restaurant. “I don’t know why we can’t do it,” he said, adding the change could give a small boost to a new local business.

Voting to deny the request were Seifert, members Doreen Joslow and Michael Sanders, alternate Sarah Janson, and commission Chairman Jon Lavy. Voting to approve the request were Horner, and members Henry Krempel, Stephen Merola, and Keith Scherber.