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FAIR HAVEN: NEW RESTAURANT LAW TABLED

fair-haven-peters-lucarelli-090919-500x332-6258397Mayor Ben Lucarelli, right, with Council President Jon Peters at Monday’s council meeting. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919Steam continued to rise Monday night from last month’s controversial planning board decision  to allow a Dunkin’ coffee shop to open in Fair Haven.

At issue at the council’s semimonthly meeting was a proposed ordinance that would all but ban fast-food restaurants, even as advocates acknowledged it was no more than a “stopgap” measure.

fair-haven-nancy-sutsko-090919-500x332-6011452Lewis Lane resident Nancy Sutsko argued for expanding membership of a new restaurant ordinance review committee. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Because an explicit ban on “fast food” would not withstand legal challenges, advocates said, the ordinance would instead ban drive-in, drive-thru and walk-up restaurants. (See text of the law below.)

It was drafted in response to concerns voiced by opponents of the Dunkin’ shop, approved for the Acme-anchored shopping center on River Road August 20. Many opponents believed the store should have been banned under a prior ordinance, adopted in 1973.

That law, however, was “replaced” by the council in 1998, said Lucarelli. He disputed assertions made at council meetings earlier this year that the law had mysteriously vanished from the town’s code book in 2002, when new laws and amendments to existing ones were consolidated and reorganized by an outside vendor.

“People did a misinformation campaign” that included misrepresentations about the history of the ordinance, he said.

Lucarelli said the proposed ordinance was an “interim step” that the borough’s planner recommended be put in place while a more comprehensive law, one that takes into account the borough’s requirement to provide affordable housing, can be drafted.

Under the terms of a legal settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center earlier this year, the borough agreed to require affordable units above some commercial property uses.

Resident Meghan Chrisner-Keefe, however, noted that the planning board, in its review of the proposed ordinance, recommended that it not be adopted until standards for fast-food restaurants are included.

Chrisner-Keefe and Michael McCue are Democrats on the ballot in the November 5 election, hoping to unseat incumbent Republicans Jon Peters and Jacqueline Rice.

After a two-and-half-hour meeting dominated by the issue, the council unanimously agreed with Councilman Chris Rodriguez that the ordinance should be tabled at least until October 28.

Rodriguez, noting that he had previously argued for a “stopgap” measure, urged his colleagues to send the proposed ordinances to a new “restaurant ordinance review committee,” whose makeup was itself an issue.

“This is the first step of the committee,” he said.

On the committee are Lucarelli; Banahan; Councilwoman Betsy Koch, who as a planning board member cast one of the two ‘no’ votes in the 7-2 decision approving the Dunkin’ plan on August 21; Carolyn Ferguson, of the Fair Haven Business Association; and business owner Gary Leasor.

Chrisner-Keefe, of Beechwood Place, and others in the audience pressed Lucarelli to expand the committee to include at least one restaurant owner as well as a parent of young children, to reflect the concern among some Dunkin’ opponents about pedestrian safety.

Lucarelli said he is continually trying to drum up volunteers for various borough functions, and that “20 percent” of the people he’d asked to serve on the new committee had agreed.

He was noncommittal, however, when pressed to add others, including Dunkin’ opponent Tracy Cole, who volunteered to serve.

Councilman Jim Banahan, echoing remarks made by Lucarelli, said there was little danger of another fast-food restaurant filing an application before the council can act on a final ordinance. He and Lucarelli cited the relative paucity of drive-by traffic and other demographic features that fast-food chains look for.

“I don’t think there’s a whole parade of people” lining up to open fast-foot operations in town,” said Banahan. “It’s not going to happen.”

Longer term, predictions of “children being run over by cars” as a result of the Dunkin’ shop’s opening won’t pan out, Lucarelli said.

“Everything’s going to be fine,” he said. “Six months from now, we’ll have a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Acme and the sun’s still going to shine.”

Ordinance 2019-08 prohibits drive-in, drive-thru and walk-up restaurants, as defined below, in ordinance 2019-07. (Strike-throughs indicate deletions, and underlining indicates added language; click to enlarge.)

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