Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Face It...Leominster residents don't want day spas in their back yards

After several months, numerous planning board and city council meetings, and quite a bit of ink in the local papers, Beth and Frank Novak have apparently withdrawn their petition to allow a day spa or "wellness center" to operate in a residential zone with a special permit.

I think this could have been a landmark decision had the city council been given the opportunity to actually vote on the petition. Please refer back to my earlier post; Day Spas, Doctors, and a Disappearing Councilor for some background on what the Novaks were trying to do. Basically the Novaks, who currently own Face It Day Spa on Hamilton St in Leominster wanted to purchase a beautiful old Victorian house and relocate their day spa there. The problem was that the house they wanted to purchase was just that, a house. It's not a commercial building. The street they were looking to relocate to is zoned residential and according to Leominster's zoning ordinance, businesses are not allowed in residential neighborhoods. Their are exceptions such as home offices but a home office is typically a one-man shop with maybe one employee and very low impact and their are several specific ordinances that define a home office and how it can be run. Their Day Spa is a business with several employees, a large and growing clientele, and not well suited for a residential neighborhood

Sure their day spa may have fit in nicely into this particular neighborhood considering their is a doctor's office on the street, a real estate company one street over, and another real estate company one street over but as I stated in my previous post, a zoning change is not meant to accommodate a single person or company. What about the other residential neighborhoods on the other side of town that don't currently have any businesses there? It's a change that affects the entire city. I know both Beth and Frank Novak and I wish them the best with their business but I have to say that I don't think any commercial business should be located in a residential area. Yes, there are examples of commercial businesses in residential areas all over town and there isn't much we can do about it, these are pre-existing, non-conforming uses.

What that means is that these businesses were up and running prior to the creation of the current zoning ordinance so they were grandfathered. People that move into a neighborhood with a commercial business already there make that move with full knowledge of the business being there. To now allow a business to move into a residential neighborhood, you are asking the residents of that neighborhood to accept this change after they bought their properties. Maybe Joe and Jill Homeowner don't want the traffic and noise a commercial business brings with it. When they bought their house their were other houses around, not businesses.

Back to my earlier statement about it being a landmark decision, I'd be curious to know how other communities would handle this type of petition. Can someone in Anytown, Illinois that wants to open a business in a residential neighborhood just go ahead and do it? Don't cities and towns in other states have similar zoning plans and zoning ordinances. Had Leominster's City Council voted to approve the zoning change and allow a Day Spa to operate in a residential neighborhood, would other cities and towns in Massachusetts and other states follow suit?

I think it's a slippery slope and there could be a case made for several other quiet businesses that want to operate in residential neighborhoods such as doctors, attorneys, accountants, massage therapists, etc...where do we stop? Residential neighborhoods are just what their name implies; neighborhoods made up of peoples residences. Businesses have their choice of commercial zones and industrial zones and probably a bunch of other fancy names in other areas of the state and that's where businesses belong.

I think the citizens of Leominster made their thoughts and opinions clear with respect to this petition and the Novaks did the right thing by withdrawing. They may very well come back to the City Council at a later date with a new petition but hopefully they can find a building that is zoned commercial that fits their need...and Beth, I'm available if you would like help finding a property...


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