Published March 26. 2014 4:00AM
Old Lyme - The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted Tuesday to uphold a cease-and-desist order against the Chocolate Shell, a candy shop on the town's main street whose case has drawn public attention.
The board of appeals ruled Tuesday that recent additions to the more than 30-year-old shop on Lyme Street amounted to a "change in use" that is prohibited by zoning laws.
Shop owner Barbara Crowley, who has operated the store at 18 Lyme St. since 2011, recently began selling coffee and prebaked pastries. She installed a "Cafe Open" flag, additional outdoor seats and tables, and stools and a counter in the shop's back room. The town said these additions violated zoning regulations.
Crowley appealed the town's January cease-and-desist order that stated she was operating a take-out and full-service restaurant without permits. Crowley agreed to take down the flag, which was part of the order. She has said she viewed the additions as an extension of her product line at the shop, where she previously sold hot chocolate, as well as chocolates and sweets.
The board's ruling Tuesday follows last week's three-hour public hearing in which residents spoke both for and against the order. Lawyers for the town, Crowley and several neighbors of the Chocolate Shell presented their cases. The zoning decision also set off a larger discussion about the town's zoning laws for Lyme Street.
The town considers commercial properties on Lyme Street, zoned residential in the late '70s, as "non-conforming uses," which means they can continue to operate based on their historical use but cannot expand beyond that. The residential street, also a historic district, has shops along with houses, schools, Town Hall, galleries and a fire station.
In deliberations, several board members stressed that they were making their decisions solely based on interpretation of zoning laws and determining if the additions of the Chocolate Shell constitute a "change in use."
ZBA member Mary Stone said she was not saying the shop's additions were bad - in fact, she said the members could agree that "it's a wonderful thing" - but it nonetheless is illegal since it has changed from what was permitted.
Member Arthur Sibley said several aspects of the store had changed - hours were expanded and food items were now offered that could be consumed on the premises rather than taken away - which made it an illegal change of use. He spoke about the history of how the town made a deliberate decision to preserve Lyme Street and to move its commercial operations to Halls Road.
In his remarks, member Kip Kotzan said he hopes the business would be able to seek a zoning exemption or apply for a variance.
"I want this clearly to be on the record that we're not making a judgment that this is a detriment to the town," he added.