(Neil Feinberg’s 2/6/14 Lincoln Journal column)
Let’s take a spin up and down Lincoln Road, with stops at the Town Center and Town Office building at one end and the Lincoln Station mall at the other:
AKA Bistro – Christian Touche, the owner of this well-regarded restaurant reports that he expects to reopen by the end of March. A pipe in the attic of the building burst during that mid-December sub-zero cold spell (as opposed to all those other January sub-zero deep freezes) and the water came pouring down, flooding out his dining room, ruining the wood floor and damaging the kitchen. Closing the restaurant also meant that all the food bought in anticipation of the holiday season went to waste.
Since having to close, Christian has been wrangling with the insurance company (need I add the cliché about how they’re happy to take your money, but not so eager to pay a claim?). He has business interruption insurance, which covers some expenses, but has had to pay his staff or risk losing them to other restaurants.
Reconstruction is just beginning In the meantime, he’s used the time well, traveling to Marseilles and coming back with new recipes. The plan is to create an updated menu with new dishes added to many of the old favorites. See you there for Paques (that’s French for Easter).
Town Center – I wish I could have been at last week’s continued hearing at Town Offices involving the First Parish Church’s controversial desire to expand the iconic white building as they darn well please. By all eyewitness accounts, it was a humdinger of a meeting featuring strategic twists and turns, oratory from the church’s leader Reverend Paine and a decision by First Parish proponents to stop negotiating and stand their ground on the most recent design. It ended with a cliffhanger worthy of any season-ending TV suspense thriller.
As reported here on numerous occasions, the First Parish would like to expand the white church. There’s mold in the building, people can’t get from the front of the church to the back after services because the hallways are inadequate, as is the kitchen. The problems are: the building sits on a tiny spit of land, and the proposed expansion, jutting out in three directions and encroaching upon the abutters and the conservation field behind the church, would violate the town’s Zoning Bylaws for setback requirements.
Church expansion proponents have been trying to find a sympathetic regulatory ear (or majority of ears) on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Historic District Commission, to no avail. The ZBA sent ‘em packing and HDC members have had nary an encouraging word about the design or the handicapped-access exemption the church is seeking from them.
These same architectural and legal advocates have already appeared a few times (I’ve lost count) before the Planning Board. The last time, board members chastised them for a plan that encroached into deed-restricted areas. Church proponents flocked to last week’s meeting as a slightly revised plan, without any encroachment into ‘forbidden’ areas, was presented.
The Planning Board thought it was an encouraging effort, but that additional improvements could be made to shrink the expansion (and possible setback violations) a little further and provide additional relief to the church’s abutters. Board members wanted to continue the hearing to allow for those changes to be incorporated into the final design.
However, while the church’s spokesman, attorney Peter Pease, seemed willing to continue the hearing yet again, Reverend Paine would have none of it. He rose to say that he wanted the proposal already on the table to be considered. Church proponents caucused briefly in the hallway outside the meeting room and came back in and confirmed that decision. This is our proposal and we’re not making any further changes to it, they said. And so the hearing was closed.
And thus the cliffhanger: the Planning Board has thirty days to render a decision on whether or not to grant relief to the church and exempt it from setback requirements under the Zoning Bylaws. Each board member has already expressed reluctance to grant that relief. That’s because, if they give the church what it wants, they will never ever be able to deny any other nonprofit religious or educational institutions when they come to town and want to violate the town’s Zoning Bylaws and build out to the property lines. This case is a real precedent-setter, and Planning Board members have so far seemed to want to set the right one.
In the meantime, expansion proponents continue to exert political pressure and express a sense of entitlement in their letters to the Planning Board. Many assert some sort of special privilege because it’s the First Parish and its members know what’s best for
It’s ironic that the same people, some of them supposed town elders who claim to love the town and its traditions so much, and who have lived here for so long, are the very ones seeking to trample all over the regulations that have protected Lincoln. Now, rather than seek a final compromise that would be a win for the church, as well as for the neighbors while protecting the town’s zoning regulations, they seek to force the Planning Board to bend to the church’s will.
Let’s hope that Planning Board members stand fast and do the right thing: defend Lincoln’s zoning regulations.