Board turns down request to move store

MONT VERNON – At least for now, the plan to move the Mont Vernon General Store to the corner of Route 13 and Francestown Turnpike is on hold.

After three hours of discussion and debate Tuesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 to deny a variance that would allow the commercial operation in the residential zone.

About 50 people packed the meeting room at the fire station.

The denial was based on the board’s decision that denying the variance would not place an undue hardship on the applicants. All other requirements for a variance were met.

The ZBA must approve the variance before the Planning Board can proceed with the request. The variance was one of three requested by storeowners Julie Whitcomb and Matt Gelbwaks. The other two requested variances were for adding a bistro to the store and converting a house on the property into offices; hearings on those requests are scheduled for Aug. 28.

Whether the couple will apply for a rehearing on Tuesday’s denial has not been decided. They have 30 days in which to make that decision.

“Everyone is very disappointed,” Whitcomb said Wednesday.

The couple wants to move the store from the building in the center of town where it has been located since the late 1800s.

The proposed new location, which currently holds one house, would have a new barn-style building, which would allow for sit-down dining and provide more parking. The owners said the current store location cannot be expanded.

Comments in support and opposition were about equal. Those opposed cited safety concerns, including the traffic on Route 13 and the Francestown Turnpike, the lack of sidewalks, resulting changes to the village atmosphere and the size of the lot (1.19 acres).

Those supporting the plan said it was a better location than the present store, would provide a community meeting space, would be handicapped accessible and would be a good use for the lot.

In e-mail comments after the decision, Whitcomb said the owners disliked the format of the hearing, particularly how it handled just one of the three requests.

“We’re much more disappointed, however, in that we were not allowed to give our entire presentation to the ZBA,” she wrote. “(This) did not allow the ZBA to understand how the applications fit together and, at the end of hearings on all three, how the entire proposal would come together.”