YARDLEY BOROUGH >> A vote by borough council on whether to appeal the Taproom’s zoning decision is not expected until August or September.
Council President David Bria said this week that council won’t be making a decision on whether to appeal until it receives a copy of the zoning board’s written decision.
The zoning hearing board has 45 days from the day it rendered its decision to issue a written decision in the case.
The zoning board voted unanimously on June 28 to grant a variance to the Taproom, allowing it to change its use from a tasting room to a restaurant.
The approval, made without any public deliberation by the board, came with a number of conditions, including the removal of the Taproom’s outdoor tent and the elimination of outdoor music, outdoor seating and extended night hours unless it secures a special events permit from the borough council.
The Taproom opened its doors in 2019 at the Tannery, a former industrial site converted into office use on West College Avenue, after securing approval to operate a brewery and a 40-plus seat tasting room as an accessory use.
The use allowed the Taproom to produce and bottle beer and to offer public tastings on site, which is zoned light industrial. It also allowed food to be brought in from the Vault, but did not allow it to be made on site.
During testimony before the zoning board, Vault Operations Manager Jim Cain said the variance would allow him to covert the Taproom into a more traditional restaurant with an expanded kitchen and a barbecue smoker, but with no increase in its 49 seat occupancy.
“Right now about 70 percent of our sales at the Taproom are alcohol. At the Vault, somewhere around 55 percent is food. The Taproom is more of a bar that sells food while the Vault is more of a restaurant that serves beer. I’d like to transition the Taproom away from the bar focus to more of a food focus. If we do that it has to be a net positive for the community for sure and for the neighbors. I’d expect to transition to having way more food.
“We are not asking for outdoor seating, no additional indoor seating and no changes to the customer experience. I’m looking at a 15 by 20 foot addition. We want to put in a hood, a grill and a barbecue smoker that’s accessed from the inside. It would be a fully functioning kitchen and food will be prepared on site and served fresh.”
After the zoning board meeting, Van Horn resident Albert Celini, speaking for about 30 of his neighbors, said they plan to appeal the zoning board’s decision.
“I’m very disappointed with the shortsighted outcome here and we intend to appeal, to the furthest extent of the law, for what we feel is spot and situational zoning,” said Celini. “I’m very disappointed with the zoning board tonight.”
During the July 6 council meeting, several residents urged council to consider appealing the decision.
“That variance just opens the door,” said Louisa Flaningam, of the 100 block of South Main, speaking to the zoning board’s decision to allow a restaurant use at the Tannery. “You may think that you can shut it, but once that door is open you can’t stop it.”
Flaningam recommended following the advice of resident Susan Taylor who suggested at the zoning board meeting reaching out to the entire borough through a master plan to find out what the community wants.
“Don’t do anything about that property now. Update your master plan and find out what the community wants. How does the community see the future of Yardley? What do you see 10, 20, 30 years from now in a kind of imaginative look down Main Street,” she said. “It’s an important time in the history of our town to do that ... Spot zoning is not planning for the future,” she said. “That is a one time decision to help out one person.
“The Tannery,” she added, “is light industrial and sits in the middle of a residential area and it’s also next to a school. So, I please ask the council, to consider appealing the zoning board’s variance.”
West College Avenue resident Dawn Perlmutter accuses the zoning board of “abusing its discretion” in its decision to grant the Taproom variance.
“Their decision is not supported by the evidence,” she argued. “The primary reason for granting a variance is that there must be a hardship. The board never addressed that a hardship was established ... The board granted a use variance based on faulty testimony that they are expanding a restaurant use. They also did not address pollution from the commercial grade barbecue.”
Perlmutter also called the decision “spot zoning” arguing that the decision singles out one lot for different treatment. This is about the zoning hearing board not following its own regulations. I don’t think that should have to be put on the residents to appeal it.”