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New committee in Fair Haven will review local restaurant ordinance

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FAIR HAVEN – The Fair Haven Borough Council has created and appointed the members of a Restaurant Ordinance Review Committee.

The need for such a committee was prompted by a group of residents who expressed displeasure with a Dunkin’ Donuts coming to town.

In August, the Planning Board approved an applicant’s request to open a Dunkin’ Donuts in a shopping plaza at 560 River Road. During the public hearing, residents objected to the planned opening of the store.

Residents asserted that fast food establishments are prohibited town. Some residents said a Dunkin’ Donuts would cause an increase in traffic on River Road and compromise the safety of children who walk to and from school.

On Sept. 9, the creation of a Restaurant Ordinance Review Committee was a topic of discussion during the evening’s council meeting. Officials said the members of the new committee would review and discuss municipal ordinances that pertain to restaurants in Fair Haven’s business district.

The committee consists of Mayor Ben Lucarelli, Councilwoman Elizabeth Koch, Councilman James Banahan, business owner Gary Leasor and Carolyn Ferguson, who is a member of the Fair Haven Business Association.

During the meeting, several residents expressed concern with the logistics of the new committee.

“It seems like there hasn’t been public comment about the process and how things will be done,” Michael Nitka said. “… Given the experience with (Dunkin’ Donuts), which was approved on technicalities, the community should be made more aware of these future discussions … Is there room for a community voice in (this) discussion?”

Lucarelli said the committee will have deliberations before engaging in public discourse.

Meghan Chrisner-Keefe, who is running for a seat on the Borough Council, said members of the committee do not reflect a “well-rounded or diverse” group. She said the committee should include parents of school-age children or individuals who objected to the Dunkin’ Donuts application.

“I ask that you add additional committee members … so all voices are heard,” Chrisner-Keefe said. “If you are unwilling to do that, I suggest all of the meetings happen publicly.”

Lucarelli said the initial meetings of the Restaurant Ordinance Review Committee will not be open to the public. The mayor said he was not pleased with the “the level of emotion” the objectors to the Dunkin’ Donuts displayed while the application was before the Planning Board.

“Everything eventually comes out in public,” Lucarelli said. “What I would like to have is a clear discussion among residents and stakeholders to discuss the parameters of this ordinance that will have a tremendous impact.”

Chris Hempstead said residents are “frustrated with the process.”

“The frustration you are hearing (from residents) is that we all want to work together and be on your team,” Hempstead said.

Resident Tracy Cole, who was an objector to Dunkin’ Donuts, volunteered to serve on the Restaurant Ordinance Review Committee.

In an interview after the meeting, Lucarelli said “a false narrative of traffic jams, speeding cars and children being run over” were common misconceptions some residents believed would be true if a Dunkin’ Donuts opened in Fair Haven.

Lucarelli said the residents who objected to the plan to bring a Dunkin’ Donuts to town prompted the creation of the Restaurant Ordinance Review Committee.

“There are enough people who want to make sure this never happens again,” the mayor said. “… The question we now need to ask ourselves is if there is a methodology … to keep undesirable (restaurants) out … The idea (of the committee) is to have a good group of citizens sit down to discuss the ramifications and the pros and cons of (restaurant) ordinances.

“The biggest factor that plays into this is the fair share housing plan. We put an overlay zone on the western commercial district which allows a builder to build two levels of apartments on top of a first floor retail use.

“… I hate seeing people upset and emotional. If this (committee) helps solve that equation, then I am willing to give up a substantial amount of my time to walk people through (the process),” Lucarelli said.

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