YARDLEY BOROUGH >> The Yardley Borough Zoning Hearing Board on June 28 voted unanimously to grant the Vault permission to convert its tasting room at the Tannery on West College Avenue to a restaurant use.
In a unanimous vote, the borough’s zoning board approved a variance allowing the Taproom, located in the borough’s industrial zone, to change from accessory to restaurant use allowing the Taproom to prepare and serve food on site.
The board’s approval came with a number of conditions, including the removal of its outdoor tent, no permanent outdoor seating, no extended night hours and no outside music unless it secures a special events permit from the borough council.
The Vault’s 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.
Following the vote, Jim Cain, the Operations Manager of the Vault, expressed gratitude for the decision and to the residents and business owners who supported the application.
“I’m just relieved that it’s over. I’m very pleased with the decision and I’m optimistic we can improve our relationship with our adjacent neighbors,” said Cain.
During testimony before the board, Cain said he’d like to covert the Taproom into a more traditional restaurant with an expanded kitchen and a barbecue smoker, but 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.”
While Cain said he’d no longer be using the tent and would eliminate outdoor seating and live outdoor music, he said he’d like the ability to seek a permit from the borough to hold special outdoor events during the year like an Oktoberfest.
“I think it would be really great for the community to hold an Oktoberfest up there,” he said. “It’s four acres of grass. It’s an amazing resource for the community.”
Cain presented a petition to the zoning hearing board signed by nine neighboring property owners and tenants supporting the change in use.
Cain said he hopes to submit building permits to the borough as early as this fall for the construction of a 200 square foot addition to its kitchen and the smoker.
He may, however, have to wait longer than that pending the outcome of an appeal.
After the 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 remarks before the zoning board, Celini questioned how the borough could grant any appeals given that the property as a whole is under violation of borough stormwater and environmental ordinances.
“I don’t see how we can give consideration for any variances for a property until it’s under full resolution of violation. It should be period. Full stop.”
He also spoke to the relief being sought.
“The change from an accessory use as a tasting room to a restaurant use is a very significant change, one that I believe will cascade through the entire property,” said Celini. “If that is the case, we will have substantially changed the nature and character of the community, which is zoned residential all around it. This is a light industrial use property not zoned for restaurants. If you grant this variance, the whole property could become a food court.
“I’ve been very supportive of the Vault and we have no problems with a tasting room as an accessory use for a manufacturing facility. It was never intended to be used as a restaurant,” said Celini.
West College Avenue resident Dawn Perlmutter presented a petition signed by 37 borough residents opposing the variance request.
Perlmutter, who lives across College Avenue from the entrance to the Tannery, argued that the Taproom variance “will and has altered the character of the neighborhood and is detrimental to the public welfare.
“If this variance is granted it sets a precedent for the rest of the Tannery complex. There’s a high risk of more bars and restaurants. This variance is a back door into changing the zoning that borough residents were adamantly against,” she said referencing the recent defeat of a TOD ordinance.
South Main Street resident Paul Brzozowski asked the zoning board to vote against the variance raising concern about the health affects of the carbon dioxide that would be released into the air by the smoker.
“Why would you grant a variance and have surrounding homeowners and the children next door at the Hebrew school subject to hazardous smoke in an area not zoned for kitchens?
“I’m not against bars and restaurants,” he added. “But if you can’t be loyal to your own zoning, why have zoning?”
Lookover Lane resident Susan Taylor reminded the zoning board that the land is zoned light industrial and that the residents who live in residential zones surrounding the site purchased their properties believing the site would be used for office and light manufacturing where hours of operation don’t extend much past 5 p.m., there isn’t a lot of noise and traffic comes and goes in a regular pattern.
“You have a reliance on existing zoning. What I believe is being asked here is what I would call spot zoning where you take one little bit and say yes, this can happen here,” said Taylor. “For the good of Yardley Borough as a whole this should be looked upon as an issue for the whole borough. Does the borough believe it’s beneficial for that parcel to be rezoned commercial? Does that fit into the overall master plan? Because what is happening here is setting a precedent which will lead to an expanded commercial use of the property.”
The zoning board also heard from several residents and business owners who spoke in favor of the variance.
“For 37 years I went to Newtown, New Hope, Richboro, Philadelphia to entertain. Since this man opened up, now I stay here. Jim has revitalized this entire area,” said South Main Street resident Jim Tragone. “These people here have gripes, but this man has done more for this town. Don’t be misled by this group of people because they are not being fair to the entire borough.”
John Simone, the owner of the Yardley Town Center where Cain is moving his popular sushi restaurant, Kawaii Tori, spoke in favor of Cain and his plans.
“As a developer, I see this as a strange request because he already has a restaurant there. He serves food and he serves alcohol,” said Simone. “The only thing we are introducing here is preparing the food there, which he serves there now. I don’t see any change in traffic or any other issues with this property.
“I know there’s a lot of emotion, but when you clear away the issues he’s already there. He’s doing his restaurant and wants the opportunity to prepare food there,” he said. “He’s not a new guy coming in here. He’s got a track record and deserves that consideration.”