2018-06-14 / Around Town

Abutters Oppose ‘Better Weather’ Diner

By Christopher Allen

A restaurant developer faced vocal opposition to his proposed original 1927 diner on the vacant lot located at 47 Valley Road during the June 6 Middletown Planning Board meeting. Christopher Tunnah is looking to relocate the structure for his “Better Weather” diner from Pennsylvania to the open property next to Keller Williams Realty, and add a second attached structure behind the diner to be used as workspace.

The public hearing to receive input on approval for the diner was continued to July 11 after it was clear that the plans required further analysis. J. Russell Jackson, the project attorney, requested that the board withhold a vote and allow additions to the application, including a requested traffic study to analyze potential impacts to residential abutters.

“If it gives some comfort and information to the board members… that [traffic study] is something we are open to,” he said.

After hearing public complaints, some board members said they would like more data before giving the go-ahead.

“I have a problem with the traffic configuration [and] the entrance and exits,” board member Liz Drayton said.

The purpose of the hearing, besides to take in public input, was to secure a recommendation from the Planning Board regarding town regulations. “We are not asking for a use that is unusual for Valley Road. This a business zone,” Jackson said.

Tunnah still needs approval from the Zoning Board to serve alcohol in a limited-business zone, as well as other design waivers. For example, the zoning code in the district calls for gabled roofs and does not allow, absent a zoning waiver, metal-clad exteriors. But given that the diner is arriving fully assembled, and its material is a necessary feature of the establishment, a waiver to keep the diner as is will be sought.

“It’s one of the characteristic features of this dining car,” Jackson said.

The proposal is unique in a few respects. Rarely does the Planning Board have the opportunity to give recommendations for the relocation of an existing structure. Additionally, it isn’t often that a restaurant is proposed within such a short distance from residential homes.

“The most difficult thing we have in this town to deal with is the abutting commercial uses with residential and residential people’s quality of life,” board member Art Weber said.

Scott McLeish, whose property is next to the lot, spoke against the project for fear of water runoff and the increase in motor vehicle traffic.

“Where’s the runoff going to go? In my basement,” he said, adding that he has had a problem with cars cutting down the street to access Keller Williams. “I don’t know how many cars will be going in now.”

A petition signed by 15 surrounding residents was submitted to the board by Middletown resident Robert Matose, whose property abuts the proposed site.

Geralyn Small, senior civil engineer of Northeast Engineers and Consultants, has been working on the design of the project and she addressed drainage concerns. “The [drainage] system meets the [state] codes,” she said.

Spencer McCombe, an architect, told the board that his team has worked to lessen the impact to surrounding properties. “We tried everything we could to keep this as small as possible... and to let the historic diner itself be the star of the show,” he said.

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