Chester panel mulls zoning change for Baba A Louis buyer

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Planning Commission meeting on April 4 and talking about the Baba A Louis zoning questions

With adjustments to the Village Green District proposal finished at its Monday April 4 meeting, the Chester Planning Commission turned its attention to a request from  Robert “Sugar Bob” Hausslein for a change of zoning to accommodate food manufacturing in the long shuttered Baba A Louis bakery at 92 Rt. 11 west in Chester.

Hausslein’s company, SBFK Inc. (for Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind), makes smoked maple syrup, maple sriracha sauce and other products in Rutland and he wants to move the work to the former bakery. But according to a memo from Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow, the company’s legal and financial advisors are not happy with the zoning fix that the commission made to allow the company to manufacture food in the building.

The expansion of the Village Center district proposed by Preston Bristow

The issue is that Chester’s zoning allows a property that had been occupied by a business with a “nonconforming use” two years of either sitting idle or not being used for that nonconforming purpose before the property loses that use.

Under the current zoning bylaws, the bakery is in the Residential 3-acre district where there restaurant and manufacturing are not allowed uses. It was treated as what Bristow calls a “legacy” use and when it closed in early 2018 the two-year clock started ticking and then expired.

The Village Center district and the proposed expansion on a map showing current zoning. The dark brown is the Village Center while the lighter shade is Residential 40,000 and to the left the area that’s lighter still is Residential 120,000.

Back in January, Bristow went to the Select Board with an interim bylaw amendment to extend that legacy grace period to five years. That would solve the problem and allow Hausslein to make his products in the building under the non-conforming use, however the company would have difficulty expanding or making other changes. So Andrea Ogden of SBFK asked Bristow for a zoning change to allow “light manufacturing” and retail in that area.

In his memo, Bristow said the easy solution would be to extend the Village Center District, which has both light manufacturing and retail as “conditional uses.” That extension would encompass street-side buildings on both sides of Main Street from Buttonwood Farm west to Blue Hill Road. Calling it the “Westward VC,” Bristow warned not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and noted that if the commission approved the change, they could schedule a public hearing on it as soon as May 2.

Bristow also noted that because the change was not for a single property, according to a definition established by the Vermont Supreme Court, the move was not considered “spot zoning”

Robert Hausslein explains the types of food products ” ‘Sugar Bob’s’ makes

The change would affect 20 properties including open land and the Baba A Louis building belonging to John McLure and Ruth Zezza. It would also mean the loss of some current uses as well as new setbacks and new uses for those 20 properties. While commission members were supportive of finding a solution that would fit the needs of Hausslien’s business, they were also reluctant to rush into an amendment without understanding what that would mean as a whole.

Jason Rasmussen, executive director of the Mount Ascutney Regional Commission, encouraged the board to look more closely at the idea before making the change, noting the scale of the change and that it may not be in conformance with the Town Plan.

Commission chair Hugh Quinn said he did not think there was a quick solution and was concerned with making changes without the due diligence. He spoke of looking into less global and more “tactical” solutions. The commission will continue to look at the question in search of a solution.

Click here to find current zoning bylaws and maps.

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  1. sarah yake says:

    Beautiful building, tax revenue keeps coming in, was used for decades for production and retail, VT product being produced possibly here, how much more fitting to our town than this. How complicated things get, sure hope this gets resolved for the betterment of our town and future business owners.

  2. F&C Esposito says:

    It is beyond my comprehension why this town would let a beautiful building rot and discourage business/businesses to come to Chester. I really believe the planning commission should seek professional help in rezoning the town. Sounds as if they’re making a mountain out of a molehill with this and it is not the only issue in which they have shown confused decision making. I usually don’t get involved with situations like this but I feel there are a lot of things changing in Chester that are not for the better of the community.