Q. We live behind a shopping center, and want to know if there’s anything we can do to stop a restaurant from opening there. The last one went out of business because of the pandemic, and this one will probably be pumping out the same smelly fumes. We complained about the last one, but we think the owner knows people, since nothing was done about it. Do you have any suggestions?
A. You can choose your neighbors and you can choose your friends, but you don’t get to choose your family, right? Every once in a while, I get a call from a representative of a group of concerned citizens who want some use to just disappear, but you have to consider what the use is, and whether that use has been previously approved with permits and certificates of completion at that location. If the use has previously been approved, with zoning variances or straight permits, then your recourse is limited.
It’s not uncommon to see people show up — or lately, log in — to a zoning hearing to voice their opposition to an established use such as a restaurant that wants more seating, or a new use that was formerly retail, and many other combinations or changes. As to whether you can do anything, I can only say that the specifics of the proposed use would need to be understood. For example, if the restaurant that has closed was previously approved for a specific number of seats, and the proposed restaurant goes in with the same status — under normal circumstances, the conditions remain the same and, except for any minor improvements, such as kitchen equipment, removing a wall or changing the seating configuration — then the only approvals needed are permits that do not require any contestable review, as would be the case in a zoning hearing.
Noxious fumes and fire safety are another matter, and you can make a complaint that may be addressed to some extent by examining the use of equipment to minimize the fumes, but consider that fumes from a restaurant are part of the mechanism of cooking and ventilation. Also consider that you, apparently, chose to live next to a commercial establishment. It did not choose to locate next to you; you chose where to live.
I have witnessed, in public hearings over the years, seemingly reasonable people step up to the microphone and blurt out the most unreasonable statements about how, for example, their neighbor’s renovation will cause noise and dust, so shouldn’t they be told they have to turn their homestead into a small park for everyone else to enjoy? My favorite one was the couple who were hell-bent on getting the railroad to either stop running by their house or change the train schedule so they could listen to the birds without interruption. I don’t think the board of the railroad changed the schedule, but I’m sure they had a good laugh. With relatives like that, I’ll stick with my friends. Good luck!
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