Oona’s renovations: Two years is too long

Brattleboro Reformer, Vermont/December 5, 2008

By Howard Weiss-Tisman

Rockingham – The Basin Farm is in violation of the town’s zoning bylaw and stands to be fined $100 a day for its failure to renovate the former Oona’s restaurant in downtown Bellows Falls.

The Rockingham Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday rejected the religious group’s appeal of an Oct. 3 violation that the town issued because the group has failed to refurbish the fire ravaged building within two years, as required in the town’s zoning code.

Rockingham Selectboard member Ann DiBernardo said the building owners, who are members of the Twelve Tribes religious group, have waited long enough and she hoped the zoning board’s ruling, and possible subsequent fine, would motivate them to clean up the property.

“It has been two years. We have been patient enough,” DiBernardo said after the zoning board posted its decision. “It is unacceptable.”

Oona’s Restaurant was considered a cornerstone of the renaissance of downtown Bellows Falls and the building is an important part of the village’s historic district.

A fire on Sept. 30, 2006, destroyed the restaurant, as well as two other businesses in the block and the building has not been occupied since.

The Powell family owned the property at the time of the fire and was issued a permit on May 31, 2007 to demolish the structure.

Ownership of the building was transferred to Brett and Maura Sutton, two members of the Basin Farm, on Aug. 2, 2007.

The zoning bylaw that requires owners to restore their property within two years of a fire was discussed as early as November 2007, according to official town notes, and members of the Basin Farm have come before the Rockingham Selectboard at least twice to explain why they have not been able to begin work on the building.

DiBernardo said the dilapidated structure reflects poorly on the whole town and she said the town should do everything in its power to encourage the owners to fix the space or sell it to someone who will.

“We have spent so much time and so much money renovating downtown. We had hopes this group would get a business in there and nothing has happened,” said DiBernardo. “If they can’t do it then they should sell it to someone who can.”


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