Jack Hoover has operated his business in Fitchburg the last 20 years, is helping the city by storing hundreds of cement pipes on his property for a nearby city sewer project, and he is trying to expand his business in one of the toughest economic climates in living memory.
So, when he wanted to let an unemployed elderly couple operate their hot dog stand on his property to help out with his bottom line and help them with their livelihood, he thought the city would support him. He was wrong.
Mr. Hoover was denied his permit by the Zoning Board of Appeals a few weeks ago. A special variance was needed because he was seeking a permanent change to the property. Mr. Hoover needed four votes in favor of the measure. He received three, with ZBA member Michael McLaughlin voting against it.
Mr. Hoover said he was told there were enough hot dog stands peppered throughout Fitchburg. He said he was also told by Mr. McLaughlin that he had to relocate storage trailers at his business, a motor home and limousine.
His shop, Halloween Costume World on Water Street — the largest costume store in New England — is on one of the major gateways into the city.
“In today’s economy, someone trying to make an extra dollar just to stay afloat, never mind get ahead, I don’t see why the city doesn’t welcome the opportunity for someone to do that?” a clearly frustrated Mr. Hoover said yesterday. “I told the board I was going to hire an elderly couple out of work and hopefully make some money off it.”
Mr. Hoover said the city gave him a permit to run a hot dog stand in 2006, but took it away in 2010 because he wasn’t using it enough. Since last December, he has worked to get it back.
“They took it away a few years ago because they said I wasn’t using it enough,” he said. “That’s insane. Last time there were no problems and this time I was denied because of one board member.”
Mr. McLaughlin declined to comment when reached.
Mr. Hoover says he has had to pay planning, zoning and architectural fees in the attempt to obtain the permit, and he will spend thousands on an attorney to appeal the ZBA decision.
“A small-business guy can’t even sell hot dogs in this city because one ZBA member said there is enough of these restaurants peppered throughout the city, so no one else can open one in Fitchburg.”
His attorney, Mark C. Bodanza from Leominster, filed a complaint for judicial review in Superior Court Tuesday.
“It is a legal remedy to pursue if you’re unsatisfied with a finding of the ZBA that has no adequate basis,” Mr. Bodanza said.
He said he could only analogize the permit denial based on there already being too many hot dog stands in the city to the license commission’s denial of a liquor license because there were too many liquor licenses already granted in the same geographic area.
But, Mr. Hoover said, there are fewer than a half dozen hot dog stands in the city and the closest one to his business is more than 3 three miles away.
“I can’t say I’ve ever heard there were too many hot dog stands before,” Mr. Bodanza said. “It seems like the market would take care of the problem. Let the market do its job and let the person with the best hot dogs and best prices win.”
Vincent P. Pusateri II was one of the ZBA members who voted in favor of the permit.
“The criteria of the board to issue a variance is difficult to meet and one of the members thought in this case he didn’t meet that criteria,” Mr. Pusateri said. “It seems like on the one hand — what’s the big deal? Why can’t we just have a hot dog stand open? On the other hand, what Mr. Hoover was asking for was to make a permanent change to the use of that property.”
The ZBA, Mr. Pusateri explained, regularly places conditions on both variances and special permits, usually with the petitioner present.
“I feel confident that we try to treat everybody evenhandedly and regret Mr. Hoover feels he was given anything less than a fair hearing with the Zoning Board,” Mr. Pusateri said. “(The ZBA) placed some fair and reasonable conditions on Mr. Hoover.”
The ZBA, he added, generally supports business owners trying to make money with use of their property.
Mr. Hoover sent a letter to the mayor earlier this year requesting Mr. McLaughlin’s resignation.
“I generally have not intervened in the ZBA’s decisions,” Mayor Lisa A. Wong said yesterday. “I can’t comment on his (Mr. Hoover’s) allegations and don’t know Mike’s side of the story.”
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