SENNETT | After months of controversy and litigation, the Sennett Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing Wednesday night regarding a resident's contention that Bucket BBQ restaurant should not be allowed to use the second floor of its building for operations.
In April, Sennett resident Paul Bush filed a lawsuit challenging town code enforcement officer Howard Tanner's approval for the restaurant expansion to the second floor of the building on Route 20. Tanner had determined that the business could use the upper floor for restaurant purposes, but Bush's appeal states that the area is zoned for residential use only and cannot legally be used for business operations.
On May 17, the case was brought to Cayuga County Court Judge Thomas Leone, who ruled the issue must be remanded back to the Sennett zoning board. Wednesday's hearing was the first scheduled meeting since Leone's ruling.
After the hearing commenced, Bush addressed the five-member zoning board and said he had concerns about many of them having a conflict of interest. He cited comments that board chairman Mark Miller made to the media in April in which he stated he didn't believe the restaurant could survive without being able to use the second floor.
"Whether they stay in business or go out of business is none of your business," Bush told Miller.
Bush asked the chairman to recuse himself because of the comments, but Miller defended his statements by saying he spoke on behalf of the zoning board's responsibility to the town.
"If we declare it as residency it will impact our ability to enforce fire and occupancy codes," Miller said. "If there are no occupancy rules, how would that affect how it's operated?"
But Bush refuted Miller's reply and said that fire codes are not the concern of the zoning board and he has no authority to make decisions based on them.
"You don't know what the hell your job is," Bush said.
Gary Robinson, one of the Bucket BBQ partners, said that the use of the second floor is key for the business' success. He told the board Wednesday that one of the driving factors in the decision to purchase the building in 2012 was the ability to use the upper level.
Scott Chatfield, Tanner's attorney, was also at the hearing. Despite the disagreement between the parties, both Chatfield and Bush agreed that the issue is simple and encouraged the board to remember that.
Chatfield also said the issue of residency has nothing to do with the case, but rather the matter of whether Bucket BBQ is making conforming use of the space, which would mean that their business operations on the second floor are aligned with zoning regulations and town code.
"We're playing all these games here but the issue is simple and very finite," Chatfield said. "What needs to be decided is whether or not it's conforming or non-conforming. That's the issue."
Miller said the zoning board would not be voting on a decision until after the members had a chance to review the multiple documents given to them by both parties. He said it's likely that the public hearing would resume during the board's regular meeting next month.