Friday, August 19, 2011
Let Them Make Chocolate!
Gossips has been following the story of Christopher Norman Chocolates from the time the first rumors surfaced that an unidentified chocolatier was thinking of making high-end chocolate in the former Terry-Gillette mansion on Union Street. And Gossips was present last night when Christopher Norman Chocolates cleared its regulatory hurdle and was granted a use variance to open what owner and Chief Chocolate Officer John Down described as not a chocolate factory but an "atelier" in the former Sacred Heart Church at 73 North Second Street.
At 6 p.m., in a special meeting of the Planning Commission, the four members present--Donald Tillson, chair, Cappy Pierro, Claudia DeStefano, and Glenn Martin--voted unanimously to recommend that the Zoning Board of Appeals grant a variance to allow a commercial use in a residential (R-4) zone. At 6:30 p.m., the ZBA reopened its public hearing, begun last Thursday, to accept the recommendation and then convened its regular meeting to deliberate and make their determination.
Among the reasons cited for granting the use variance was the "inability to sell the property for any use allowed in the R-4 district." The building had been on the market for six years, during which time the price had been reduced from $575,000 (the original asking price) to $375,000 (the selling price), and lenders would not give the property a residential rate mortgage. Also cited in support of the variance was the fact that the property is "boxed in" by general commercial and industrial zones, with general commercial zones on two sides and an industrial zone 200 feet away.
The members of the ZBA present--Lisa Kenneally, chair, Phil Abitabile, Kathy Harter, Sheryl Shetsky, and Russell Gibson--voted unanimously to grant the use variance. The plans for the building are mixed use residential/commercial: the chocolate atelier will be located on the first floor; the owners' residence on the second floor.