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GROTON — In a show of force, the whole town (or so it seemed) crowded into the second-floor meeting room of Town Hall last week in support of a local business owner who has managed to capture the spirit of the town and the hearts of her neighbors.

The scores of people who attended the Board of Health meeting on Nov. 3 spilled out into the adjoining corridor yet still made their opinions known, as each in turn stood up to defend Janice Hurst and her efforts to make the Clover Farm Market in West Groton an integral part of the community.

Hurst needed the moral support. Her store was recently cited as being in violation of the state’s Title 5 septic requirements. According to Hurst, if the regulations prohibiting the presence of seating in her store were enforced, she could be forced out of business.

“I’m here to ask you to work with me,” Hurst pleaded as she stood before the three members of the town’s Board of Health.

Hurst told board members that her store, even before she assumed ownership last year, had always been a gathering place for townsfolk as well as a place where food was dispensed. Thus, she said, it was hard to understand how her use could be considered a change. Could not a compromise be reached between herself and the law, allowing her to remain in business? Could not the language of her permit be modified to keep the store and its community tradition alive?

In summarizing the findings of the health agent, board Chairman Robert Hanninen pointed out that on the permit originally awarded to her business, Hurst had indicated that there would be “zero” seating. In the eyes of the law, this would mean there is no impact on the septic system.

However, with seating added as well as an expanded take-out menu, health inspector Ira Grossman said he had no choice but to declare a change in use and a violation of regulations.

In over 20 years as an inspector, Grossman said, he had never seen seating at the store beyond what former owner Winnie Sherwin and his sister needed to sit down while on the job. But on his most recent visit, not only did he observe a number of chairs, but also a pair of tables clearly intended for customer use.

Although Hurst claimed that she had permission for at least four chairs in her store, she could not say how she had come to that understanding.

Complicating the issue were different permits awarded to the business that contained conflicting information. As pointed out by resident David Melpignano, although the permit in question indicated that there would be no seats at the store, a common victuallers’ license issued by the selectmen allowed for as many as 25 seats.

“For the record,” declared long-time West Groton resident Barney Blood, “there was a restaurant in the store and I ate there many times.”

Blood’s comment came in support of the notion that seating must be allowed due to its having been there before.

“I worked in the store for 71 years and worked in the restaurant in back,” confirmed Winnie Sherwin. Sherman characterized Hurst as the only person who ever expressed an interest in buying his store that he trusted to do the right thing by the community. “I’ve heard that they did a miraculous job at the store. That’s good for Groton because Groton is looking to promote business,” he said.

Resident Julia Byers agreed, saying that Hurst had succeeded in using her store to tap into the spirit of the community, as evidenced by the large turnout at the meeting in her support. Byers also said that everyone in the neighborhood thought of the Clover Farm Store as a store and not a restaurant.

Fellow resident Emily Fouchet asked for a show of hands from all those who had used the rest room at the store when visiting and virtually no one had. Thus, Fouchet concluded, any claim by the inspectors that seating would have an impact on the store’s septic system was only an “assumption” and not something that could be proven.

Nevertheless, said Hanninen, even if there had been a restaurant in the store at one time, there had been not been one there in a long while. The interruption of several years prevented any claim of the use being “grandfathered,” he said, so when Hurst started to serve food again, it could legally be viewed as a change in use.

When discussion finally ended, Hanninen suggested that Hurst take some time to draw up and submit a formal list of compromise measures that the board could consider.

Having agreed to a delay, during which she will be allowed to operate her store, Hurst is next scheduled to meet with the board on Dec. 1.