‘Ad-vent-ure' continues as planners support variance

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:17

MILFORD - It may be a precedent setting decision that comes back to haunt them, one observer said. A controversial venting system for the historic Hotel Fauchere’s basement kitchen has been haunting the developers and borough officials for several months now. Originally designed and approved as an underground system in the rear, owners Richard Snyder and Sean Strub say the surface vent eventually constructed on the north side of the Broad Street building was the only practical way to get the job done. But the borough’s architectural review board, which oversees asthetics construction and renovations in the business district, has rejected the vent, saying the pipe rising some six-feet high at the end of a 10-foot air duct is an unacceptable eyesore. Chair Beth Kelley has referred to it as a “tumor.” The lastest round in the story came Monday when borough planning commission endorsed an effort by the developers to gain a zoning variance for the vent structure. The variance is needed because the vent extends beyond the building footprint. Fauchere attorney John “Duke” Schneider began with apologies, first for failing to appear last year when the commission considered an earlier variance application for an underground service tunnel between the hotel and its sister-structure, the Emmerson House, then for failing to note the change in plans that forced the cooking vent to an above ground installation. “I’m afraid I wasn’t paying much attention,” Schneider admitted. Schneider and historic consultant Tom Brannon presented plan drawings, shown to the borough council last week, which will raise the grade level to nearly cover the vent’s horizontal duct and a permanent trellis that would partially obscure the vertical section. The plan is essentially the same as one that was rejected by the architectural review board last month. Brannon said the original underground plan was abandoned because it would have cost a minimum of $100,000 to build, and pulling the smoke down underground would have required enough draft to lift a 747. Schneider renewed the developer’s argument that bringing the pipe up through or over the roof would create “a distortion” of the historic building. But the trellis, Commission Chair Ed Raarup said, is not part of oversight, to order or deny. Schneider said the trellis would be part of a variance, to provide “some comfort level” for the architectural review board. After some discussion, the planners voted 4-0 to support the measure. He admitted that the hardship, which the variance would remedy, is self-imposed because the developers have chosen not to combine the Fauchere and Emmerson House properties for financial reasons. But given these conditions, the borough’s zoning hearing board has granted variances for the tunnel and for the replacement of the historic porch on the Fauchere. Schneider argued that the new variance amounted to an extension of the existing tunnel variance. “If you grant it, what’s the harm?” he asked. The planners did not recommend the Fauchere’s tunnel variance last year. The harm, according to an offical who asked not to be quoted, is that variances are not supposed to be granted when hardships are self-imposed. Doing so sets a new precedent.