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Planners reverse Groton Road cease-and-desist order against shopowner

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PEPPERELL — More than two years after Kimberly Gordon’s neighbors and the Planning Board objected to a weekend consignment shop at her 75 Groton Road multifamily home, the Zoning Board of Appeals has reversed a cease-and-desist order from the town’s building inspector.

Gordon’s administrative appeal of the order was simultaneously partially granted and denied, adding a new twist to an already complex series of events that has cost taxpayers considerable legal expense.

Planners had objected to Gordon’s core business, a home occupation sign business in the rural residential zone almost two years ago, but the Land Court upheld the special permit from the ZBA. This past year, planners and several abutters opposed Gordon’s operation of a weekend consignment business at her home but the ZBA granted a supplemental special permit.

That second special permit was taken to Land Court by the town, but dismissed without finding.

In response to Building Inspector Harry Cullinan’s cease and desist order rendered after the dismissal, Gordon’s attorney, Christine Morrissey, said her client had not filed the supplemental permit with the town clerk in a timely manner because she had not known the Land Court does not mail out its decisions. When she asked for the supplemental decision, she had been given the decision on the original special permit, not the supplemental.

Morrissey argued that an unpaved driveway which Cullinan said should be at least gravel is on a 50-year-old plot plan and the Highway Department has said paving is not necessary. No additional parking has been added, and there is handicapped access, she said. No building permit is required because the business is inside an existing structure.

She said her client admits to wrongfully displaying retail items on the lawn, but argued that temporary business signs had not been placed on the street.

Neighbor John Cotton complained about a bed on Gordon’s lawn that was used for advertising, as well as tables of retail items and a spot-lit sign. Gordon’s permit requires retail items to be hidden from view.

“If temporary signs are not allowed in town, please enforce the law against everyone,” Morrissey said.

Town counsel advised the ZBA to honor Cullinan’s observations regarding the display but disagreed with the inspector that there had been parking violations or that the supplemental permit is a violation of zoning bylaw.

“It was the subject of a Land Court case which the court upheld. As far as I’m concerned the original (special permit) stands (and) that wasn’t before the board,” Richardson said. “What’s before the board is living up to conditions of the existing permit.”

Neighbor Dorothy Lohnes said Gordon’s customers use her driveway as a turn-around and is worried that her property value may decline.

She also complained that Gordon’s yard is cluttered with retail items.

Fellow neighbor Donna Parker registered complaints about Gordon’s business that Richardson advised were applicable only to the original special permit that was not in question.

Marian Flaminio, yet another neighbor, said the business is not a problem, rather it is a “beautiful little shop.” Flaminio argued that years ago “stuff” on front yards was normal and caused no problem.

“It is the building inspector’s feeling she was not in compliance which is costing the town and her money,” Morrissey said. “Wouldn’t a temporary order be better to allow her to comply? This is Pepperell. We can communicate here with each other. We needn’t be so aggressive.”

Richardson said, “It may not be the polite way but (it’s legal).”

Morrissey replied that the law should not be enforced selectively, to which Richardson said Cullinan was no more selective than is a police office enforcing a speeding ticket.

“We believe (Cullinan’s) office needs to act on a request,” Morrissey said. “He isn’t the zoning police.”

“My job,” Cullinan said, “Is to enforce the decision of the board.”

That decision, based on Richardson’s advice, was to grant Gordon’s administrative appeal except for the condition that stipulates no displays or storage of retail items in the open. It was agreed Gordon would cease such activity.