Zoning Board approves part of LaBelle plan

AMHERST – The Zon­ing Board of Adjustment voted Tuesday night to give LaBelle Winery a variance for part of its planned expansion com­plex across Route 101.

LaBelle’s owners, Amy LaBelle and Cesar Abode­la, want to build a distill­ery with a tasting room, as well as an inn with a restaurant and related fa­cilities on 11 acres across from their vineyard and restaurant on the south side of the highway.

Early in the 2 1/2-hour deliberative meeting, board members decided to split LaBelle’s applica­tion in two, separating the inn and restaurant from the distillery, calling it an industrial use.

"We have a master plan that says preserve the ru­ral character," Chairman Douglas Kirkwood said – and the two uses are sig­nificantly different.

Board members said they want more informa­tion on the impact of the distillery and how intense the use will be – including water use and whether the products will be bot­tled and sold on-site or shipped somewhere else.

After going through the five questions they are bound by law to consider, board members voted yes on the first part, the inn-restaurant, saying it is a good use of the property, and tabled the distillery part of the application un­til their Sept. 20 meeting.

"It’s not a Holiday Inn Express," Kevin Shea said.

One question is about the effect on nearby prop­erty values, and all board members agreed the inn and restaurant would have little or no effect on the neighborhood north of the proposed development.

"A more global consid­eration," Jamie Ramsey said, is that "this is some­thing the town wants: a gathering place."

Abutters and other neighbors in the Holly Hill Drive area had a chance to speak at a four-hour pub­lic hearing Aug. 16. They said the expansion plans would spoil the rural look of the area and bring un­wanted noise, traffic and excessive water use.

Others, including the head of the Chamber of Commerce, called it a perfect development for the town’s gateway that will provide much needed lodging space. Many peo­ple noted that less attrac­tive developments could be built on the property.

ZBA members agreed the land’s location and topography make it inap­propriate for the many uses that are allowed there, including houses and farms.

LaBelle had also re­quested a height varianc­es from the ZBA, which was granted Tuesday night.

Amy LaBelle, who was at the Aug. 16 hearing, said the new facilities would bring dining and cultural options, taxes and jobs, as well as histor­ical preservation of two old buildings on the prop­erty and conservation of open space.

Plans call for a 25-acre buffer between what is being called an "artisan culinary village" and the houses to the north.

A hydrologist recom­mended conditions of approval, and LaBelle’s owners have agreed to all of them. They include that the development minimize the amount of impervious surfaces and that the impervious sur­faces that are built should direct water to detention ponds, a rain garden and other features to maxi­mize recharge to the un­derlying bedrock.

Other consultants in­cluded a real estate ap­praiser who said similar facilities haven’t hurt nearby property value, and a traffic consul­tant said the maximum increase on Route 101 would be a 7.8 percent rise of eastbound traffic on weekends.

LaBelle and her hus­band built the Route 101 facility about three years ago after starting the winery at their Amherst home.

The property they want to buy and build on is the last remaining portion of Bragdon Farm, which once covered 183 acres. The Bragdon family do­nated the Bragdon hill sledding area to the town years ago.

Nancy Keirstead, repre­senting the Richard Brag­don Trust, told the board that they’ve had prospec­tive buyers, including a veterinary clinic and professional offices, but all of the feedback was the same: Using the steep front of the property would be expensive and limited, and no one wants to live right on Route 101.

The site plans also have to be approved by the Planning Board.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.