An artistic and entrepreneurial couple were denied their permit by Newfane officials to set up a cafe at a former funeral home in Newfane this past week.
The Edge of Nowhere Cafe, a proposed venue for themed events, educational workshops and dinner theater, came up before the Newfane Zoning Board on Sept. 13 and “a handful of neighbors” who were vehement in their opposition to the business which would replace the vacant funeral home at 6139 East Ave,, as related by Rhonda and Mark Parker, the couple who were poised to buy the property for the new business.
The Parkers were given the thumbs up earlier in September by the Niagara County Planning Board and were looking forward to appearing in front of Town of Newfane Zoning Board of Appeals for their variance of use in a residential-zoned neighborhood. They posted on Facebook that they, “appreciate all the positive vibes and congratulations,” but, “need the green light from the Town of Newfane Zoning Board before we pour our first cup of coffee.”
According to Newfane Building Inspector Doug Nankey, a variance of use is a very difficult item to acquire for any business. Such a variance would travel with the property if it is sold again and would be irreversible. He also noted that that the location was a funeral home before the zoning laws were drafted around it.
Nankey said the zoning board was charged to uphold four criteria set by the state.
“They couldn’t meet all their criteria set up the state,” Nankey said. “The state has four criteria that you have to explain or meet and you have to prove (are true).”
Nankey said that the presence of neighbors against the project were not a reason to deny the Parker’s their variance of use.
“Their play doesn’t come in until they meet these criteria,” he said. “It’s (even) one where the neighborhood loves it, but they didn’t pass the criteria so someone can sue (if the board gives them the variance).”
The Parkers said they see a different side. In a recent conversation with the US&J, they expressed being “devastated” by the board’s decision.
“The majority of residents of Newfane want a comfortable place to sit down and have a cup of coffee,” the Parkers wrote. “Many residents were excited by the opportunity to have entertainment options such as movies and dinner theater, while others looked forward to educational opportunities in both visual and theatrical arts.”
All that seemed in vain as the Parkers said that they were held at a higher standard than other applicants and were not given the chance to clarify their situation to approach these four criteria. They also noted that residents seemed mainly concerned about traffic conditions, something that they thought was determined by the county planning board.
“We would still like to be able to bring a venue such as this to Newfane, but it seems the current administration is intent on backwards progress,” the Parkers concluded. “I would encourage any residents that were in support of this business to come forward.”
Town Attorney Jim Sansone said that the four criteria to meet for a variance of use were to 1) prove an economic hardship, 2) prove to be in an unique situation, 3) prove there is no substantial altering of the character of the neighborhood and 4) prove the hardship was not self-imposed.
Sansone said the first three items were not proved.
“Every case rests on its own facts,” Sansone said. “The zoning board has to take that into account and they’re charged with the duty to make a decision based on their factors. That’s what they have to do and that’s what they do.”