Variance, Zoning Proposal Help Red House

CASSADAGA — The Red House can again open for business after the Zoning Board of Appeals voted 3-2 Thursday to grant it a variance.

ZBA President Tom Beichner explained that the purpose of the meeting was to re-vote on the variance for the Red House, a site used for weddings and other gatherings that has been closed for months and not accepting reservations after it was found it was not zoned for business.

Beichner said that on the advice of the New York State Conference of Mayors, the re-vote had to happen after the previous vote on the variance was a 2-2 tie. A tie vote is considered inaction and thus a new vote had to occur, he said.

New ZBA members Amanda Lancaster and Matt Cassatt voted “no” on the variance Thursday. “Yes” votes were by Beichner, Chris Mackrell and Ryan Burlingame.

Cassatt and Lancaster were at their first ZBA meeting, joining after an Oct. 17 Village Board vote. Mayor Mary Jo Bauer, who nominated the duo to replace Tim Bulger and Tony Lazarony, respectively, broke a 2-2 tie to approve their nomination.

The Red House is also getting assistance on another front. A proposed change in village zoning law to allow for a historical venue designation went back on the table at the October Village Board meeting.

The board rescinded its Sept. 5 vote to halt work on the initiative amid a show of support for the Red House from both the public and government officials.

Trustee and Deputy Mayor Bill Astry asked the board to revisit its earlier vote, explaining that the proposal would go to the Chautauqua County Planning Board for vetting, which would make suggestions and then send it back to the Cassadaga board for a public hearing and a final vote. The board wound up agreeing to the move unanimously.

Astry said whatever the ZBA did on a variance, it might be challenged in court — but changing the zoning law would be a more permanent way to let businesses such as the Red House conduct activities, and would cover more sites than just that establishment.

Steve and Nancy Wickmark, owners of the Red House, explained after the Village Board meeting that all profits from their business are donated to community youth services. People who already had reservations for this year were allowed to let their money be used for a restoration fund for the historic property. However, they said due to the zoning problems, they lost most of their business for this year and have not been able to book reservations for 2019, as well.

Nancy Wickmark made a presentation to the board early in the meeting asking them to reconsider its decision to let the zoning law change die.

“I’m hoping that you will let me present with my Cassadaga citizen hat on and not my Red House hat,” she began. Stating that she grew up there and returned to a village in 2008 that was “a little frumpy,” she said it was now “very vibrant,” and village members and Village Board initiatives were the drivers of that. “This board has a role to play that we as citizens can’t play… The board has a role for us and needs to speak on our behalf,” she said.

The zoning amendment would preserve the village’s historic character and should help businesses’ financial bottom line, Nancy Wickmark said. She then noted that the Red House brought in $300,000 of business activity for the community, with secondary, “ripple effect” business worth much more.

“I hope you can consider and approve it with the strong conviction that you are doing the right thing for the citizens of Cassadaga,” she added. “You’re not doing it because you’re under pressure for any reason. You’re doing it because of the value and the role that you play, where you can take your role of setting us up for our future in Cassadaga.

“This is bigger than the Red House,” she concluded.

After Nancy Wickmark’s presentation, three other village residents spoke in support of the Red House, and Chuck Battaglia presented a petition to the board backing the business that he said had about 150 signatures on it. In addition, later in the meeting, Village Clerk Roxanne Astry read pro-Red House letters the village received from the owners of Shur-Fine, Jo Jo’s Asian Cafe and Whiskey Hill Saloon. The letters stated that the businesses benefited from the people the Red House brought into the community for its events.