OSSIPEE — Ossipee selectmen with help from the town's zoning enforcement officer will decide whether a zoning complaint filed by a resident against a local ice cream stand is legitimate. The stand's owner says it feels like "harassment."
On Monday, listed on the agenda as “zoning complaint 2305 Route 16” was a letter from resident Greg Howard regarding the Coffee Caboose Ice Cream Shop located at 2305 Route 16 in West Ossipee.
In the letter dated July 10, Howard said the town regulations essentially states that if a non-conforming use is discontinued for one year, it may not be resumed. Howard stated there had been no business activity at the site from late 2017 to spring of 2019.
Town officials say the town’s site plan regulations were changed to allow a business to be discontinued for two years before the business has to have a site plan amendment or review.
“This property owner should have to follow the same procedures that all the other business/property owners have to follow to get Town approval for their operations,” states Howard’s letter. “I trust that enforcement will occur in this situation to insure consistency and fairness.”
Howard, who runs his own business, North Country Soil Services & Environmental Consulting, said at Monday’s meeting he’s concerned about apparent “selective enforcement” of town ordinances.
In a brief interview Tuesday he said he has no other beef with the Coffee Caboose. But he said in an email that while he doesn’t expect selectmen to use a “hammer,” he wants to make sure the ice cream shop goes “through the steps everyone else has to.”
Coffee Caboose Ice Cream Shop co-owner John Lungo said he feels the shop is in compliance with town regulations. His daughter, Jacqulyn, put out a mailer stating the “locally owned, summer business is unreasonably targeted for closure.”
“I don’t even know the guy,” said Lungo of Howard, adding that he saw Howard for the first time on Monday.
On the Lungos’ flier is posted several complaints Howard sent the town about the shop going back to 2016 regarding issues with setbacks, vehicles on site and signs.
Lungo said he attended the meeting with his wife, Debbie, daughter, Jacqulyn Lungo, grandson Shawn and an employee. “We closed the business down for almost three hours, and we all went to the meeting,” said Lungo. “No one asked a question.”
Lungo said they have had an active food license from the state since 2004.
“There’s no violations that I know of,” said Lungo adding that if there was, he and his family would address it.
He said over two dozen people came to the meeting and some had the flier in hand, but no one stated their position publicly.
Lungo said when there was a complaint that the toys (in front of the business where kids can play for free) were too close to the road, they moved them back.
“If there has to be something done, we’ll do it the same day or the following day,” said Lungo.
He said one of the biggest challenges from Howard’s complaints is his employees feel their jobs are uncertain.
“Now we have to change the hours,” said Lungo of his staffing uncertainty, adding Jacqulyn and Shawn, might go back to Florida because of this and that would be a “hardship.”
Selectmen on Monday said they would have Zoning Enforcement Officer Steve McConarty look into Howard’s complaint.
“We’ll get back to you,” Selectman Sam Martin told Howard.
The Sun spoke to town administrator Ellen White and McContary on Tuesday. White said after the meeting, she received a multi-page petition to keep the business open.
“That wasn’t even the question as far as I know,” said White.
White said in the past there had been issues with setbacks, and the zoning officer asked Lungo to correct that, and he did.
The current complaint, according to White, is that because the business was shut down last year, Lungo would have to go before the planning board for site plan review all over again.
However, White said a site plan regulation change made this spring said a business can be closed for two years. White said Lungo had a yard sale business going last year when ice cream sales had apparently been suspended.
McConarty also said the ice cream portion was closed last year but Lungo still had an active business during the time in question. McConarty said he had questions about Howard’s complaint, specifically whether the lot is non-conforming or the business on the lot is non-conforming.
“I don’t know where he was coming from,” McConarty said of Howard.