I've been waiting to post this news so that the required appeal period could lapse--didn't want to jinx myself until the deed was done (pun fully intended). Since today was the last day, I'm very pleased to report that my Special Permit of Home Occupation to operate a winery in the basement of my home has been approved by the Westford Zoning Board!
The question rattling around my head the past few weeks has been "was the whole process easier that I thought it would be, or did my grunt work & planning pay off?" I honestly anticipated that the local approval would be the most difficult part of getting Aaronap Cellars off the ground. It has been time consuming with the amount of paperwork and documentation involved, but I've also gone through this with a great sense of support and encouragement from my town leaders.
My fiance will tell you that as the meeting of the Zoning Board approached, I was a bit of a nervous wreck. I wasn't really all that nervous about the reaction from the Board, since I had designed the business to clearly fit within the Zoning By-laws for a home occupation. A rather unique home occupation, but a business that fit the letter of the law none the less. I was nervous about my neighbors' reaction. See, my neighborhood has had a long standing history of strong resistance to any change that might appear to encourage the growth of non-residential property use. And I completely understand (and support) this issue--I live here too! Even though I was pretty sure that my little operation wasn't going to negatively impact anyone, I was still just a little concerned about their reaction to my proposed endeavor.
After the permit application announcement had landed in my neighbors' mailboxes, I half expected a crowd with pitchforks descending upon me. To try to head that off, I sat down & wrote an open letter to my neighbors explaining exactly what I was wanting to do and how they probably would never even know it was going on. Then my fiancee and I headed out one evening to deliver the letters in person. There was a wide spread of reactions--from apathy to encouragement to concern. We spent a good bit of time with the concerned reactions showing the floorplan and describing the winemaking process. At the end of the evening, I hoped we had allayed the major concerns, but still expected there to be some folks who would express their concerns to the Zoning Board.
Come the night of the Zoning Board meeting...no one came to stand in opposition. The Zoning Board asked some pointed questions, but fortunately I had anticipated just about every one and it ended up being a fairly congenial discussion. At the end of the evening, the permit was approved by a vote of 5-0. After the required 20 day appeal period lapsed today, I dropped off the approved permit at the Middlesex County Registry of Deeds, and this just got a little more serious.
Lessons learned in this? Talk to your neighbors. Show them how your plans won't negatively impact anyone. And promise to invite everyone for the ribbon cutting ceremony!