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Bolete not in violation; dining sheds can stay

Bolete, a nationally-renowned gourmet restaurant in Salisbury Township, can retain dining sheds on its parking lot.

That is the unanimous 5-0 vote of the Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board, which also by a unanimous 5-0 vote, found the restaurant and its owners to not be in violation of a township zoning enforcement notice.

As part of the approval of retaining 10 sheds in which diners are served on the parking lot of Bolete, 1740 Seidersville Road, the restaurant owners have 30 days to remove nine sheds on the property of Crossroads Baptist Church, 1860 E. Emmaus Ave., across the street from Bolete on the south side of Seidersville Road. As of the deadline for this article, three sheds were on the church property.

Zoners approved a special exception appeal to permit the sheds on the parking lot to be in use until June 15, 2022 and to be removed by Sept. 1, 2022.

The ruling after a three and one-half-hour hearing Oct. 5 hinged on concerns by the zoners about the lingering and possible looming coronavirus pandemic, especially with respect to the Delta variant, which has been surging for several months in Pennsylvania, the United States and around the world.

Bolete restaurant owners, Erin Shea and Lee Chizmar, spoke on their behalf as did several township residents among the approximately 12 in the audience in the meeting room of the municipal building.

Bolete closed July 31 for renovations, which the owners say include improvements to the restaurant’s kitchen. Plans are for the restaurant to reopen in late October.

The zoning hearing opened with testimony from Salisbury Township Planning and Zoning Officer Kerry Rabold, who presented a detailed chronology of alleged zoning violations over use of the sheds, culminating in an Aug. 9 enforcement notice for Bolete failing to remove the sheds. Bolete is in a C2 Neighborhood Commercial zoning district.

Rabold made the case that during the Pennsylvania emergency shutdown order because of the pandemic, Bolete did not need a permit for the sheds, but once the restrictions were lifted, the sheds had to be removed within 30 days. Salisbury amended its ordinance Aug. 13, 2020, to allow structures such as sheds and tents to be used during the pandemic shutdown.

The Salisbury Township board of commissioners voted unanimously 5-0 at its July 8 meeting to rescind its emergency order after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf lifted his order June 10.

Once the order was lifted, Rabold said, the sheds were no longer allowed under the township amendment.

Rabold said the federal March 20, 2020, shutdown mandate and the Feb. 24 extension “set no restrictions,” hence it was up to state and local government to do so.

Later during the hearing, Attorney Kent Herman, chair, zoning hearing board, said, “I’m not so sure that those federal regulations don’t add a layer of regulation.

“The federal government still has significant concerns. I don’t think it’s business as usual,” Herman said.

Bolete applied July 20 to maintain the 10 sheds on its parking lot. Rabold denied the application in a July 30 letter to the restaurant owners. Bolete appealed the ruling, which brought the matter before the zoning hearing board Oct. 5.

“Every dining shed is its own distinct structure,” Rabold said.

According to Rabold, once Bolete began takeout only, it technically met the definition of a fast-food restaurant and, therefore must be within 300 feet of another pickup and catering business.

Rabold said Bolete is 273 feet from Daisy Hill Kitchen and Grill, 1848 E. Susquehanna St., 127 feet from Areli’s Italian Restaurant Pizzeria & Grill, 1798 Broadway and 83 feet from Vallos Bakery, 1800 Broadway.

“The township had tried to find a way to let Bolete function during the pandemic,” Rabold said.

“However, they have not followed the rules. They did switch to takeout. We did not pursue that,” Rabold said. “They became a fast-food restaurant when they switched to takeout.”

“A fast-food restaurant is not permitted in a C2 zoning district,” Rabold said. She later added, “I am in not any way implying that they [Bolete] are McDonald’s.”

Rabold said the 10 sheds would take up spaces otherwise reserved for parking for Bolete.

Attorney Theodore J. Zeller III, of Norris McLaughlin Pa, Attorneys At Law, representing Bolete, said a parking plan was sent Sept. 28 to the township. Rabold said she had not received it. “We had email problems,” Rabold said.

Shea said Bolete has 40 available parking spaces, with 11 spaces rented from Vallos and 29 spaces rented from Areli’s “since the day we opened.”

Later in the hearing, Rabold said she was satisfied with the parking plan.

Among those speaking on behalf of Bolete was Shirlee Neumeyer, who with her husband Albert, owned and ran the Inn of the Falcon for 26 years at what is now Bolete.

Referring to Rabold’s testimony, Neumeyer said, “All those things were grandfathered in.”

“There is no way you would ever qualify Bolete as a fast-food restaurant,” township resident, Maria Rodale said.

“By definition, it was when it switched to takeout,” Rabold replied.

“Our food is everything but fast food,” Shea said later in the hearing.

During testimony, Shea, who has owned and operated Bolete with her husband, Chizmar, for 14 years (as of Oct. 27), said the structure of the some 200-year-old Bolete building presents challenges in adhering to COVID-19 social-distancing protocol.

The building’s first floor has nine-foot ceilings. Air-conditioning units are wall-mounted.

“The sheds are a safe environment for customers who feel safe instead of in the restaurant because of social distancing,” Shea said.

“This application is not intended to increase capacity,” Shea said.

Bolete served approximately 60 to 100 persons on, for example, a Friday night, pre-COVID. There’s a staff of 12 during peak hours.

Each shed has a capacity of from four to eight persons.

Shea said the cost of each shed was $1,500 to $2,000 and Bolete spent “upward of $30,000” on the sheds.

Bolete received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which provides for payroll and provisions for outdoor dining under the American Rescue Plan.

“It’s been quite well-received,” Shea said of the use of the sheds for dining.

The unpredictability of the coronavirus is a concern for Shea, hence her wanting to continue use of the sheds.

“I want to safely and confidently have a plan in place,” Shea said.

“It is one of the finest dining establishments in the Lehigh Valley, if not the state,” Michael Kazarnowicz, another Bolete patron, said.

“We feel uncomfortable going into Bolete right now. We feel very comfortable going into the sheds,” Kazarnowicz said of he and his wife.

“I have in my life traveled all over the world and eaten in a lot of restaurants,” Rodale said. “And Bolete is one of the best.

“It just breaks my heart that these rules, which are important, are holding back a restaurant that is trying to succeed,” Rodale said.

“The world changed and the pandemic is not over. I would like you to help in keeping this incredible gem alive,” Rodale said to zoners.

Ian Dodson, Eastern Salisbury Fire Department chief, expressed safety concerns about the sheds.

“If something happens in the shed, they can’t get out. They have a single entrance,” Dodson said.

“I would love for you to walk with us and keep it safe,” Chizmar said to Dodson.

“We’re just trying to keep this restaurant going,” Chizmar later said.

“Is it sufficient that the CDC has issued regulations that have affected the way we interact? The restaurant industry has suffered significantly,” Attorney Ian Baxter, vice chair, zoning hearing board, said.

Attorney Victor F. Cavacini, solicitor, zoning hearing board, said the zoners would first need to vote on whether or not Bolete was in violation of the enforcement notice.

Zoners voted unanimously to reject the enforcement notice and then voted unanimously to grant Bolete a special exception for the sheds.

In an Oct. 6 social media post, Bolete stated: “Thank you @salisburysdpa for unanimously approving the temporary use of shed village through the winter. And thank you to everyone who showed up and showed us the love.

“We are excited to be able to offer this alternative to people not quite ready to dine inside and to have this option if things go south (sorry a little covid ptsd over here).

“We are excited to have this behind us and to move forward with the reopening of the restaurant (fingers crossed the end of this month for our 14 year anniversary!!).”

PRESS PHOTO BY PAUL WILLISTEIN From left, Erin Shea, co-owner, Bolete restaurant, represented by Attorney Theodore J. Zeller III and Attorney Anthony M. Brichta, answer questions at the Oct. 5 Salisbury Township Zoning Hearing Board meeting.