June 20, 2019

More on Market Cafe

I agree with everything Douglas and Patricia Ruthven (BDN letter, Dec. 23) said about the Market Cafe in Old Town. The food is great, a run-down building has been improved, and the new business is good for the community. However, the Ruthvens misunderstood the process by which the Old Town City Council revoked the restaurant’s victualer’s license.

First, the city council listened to people speak at a public hearing. Whether the room was full or empty, or whether everyone spoke in favor or against revoking the license is not the basis for the decision. A public hearing is not a referendum. Whether or not to enforce a local law is not a popularity contest. If that were the case, there would be no need for a city council: just put everything up for a vote. The purpose of a public hearing is to allow the public to express anything they have to say on the topic. That could be their opinion (in favor or opposed), or it could be factual information (a property line on the tax map is incorrect). The city council must decide what information presented at a public hearing is relevant to their decision.

Second, the Ruthvens felt the city council erred in focusing “narrowly on zoning regulations.” That is what they are elected to do. When they are sworn in at the beginning of their term, each city councilor takes an oath of office to uphold and enforce the laws and regulations of the municipality. Following the zoning ordinance and every local law, to the letter, is what the city council must do. If they can not, they would be obligated to resign. In revoking the victualer’s license, the Old Town City Council wasn’t taking a stand against the Market Cafe or ignoring public opinion. They were applying the law.

Very frequently the public feels that land use regulations should be flexibly applied, that an elected official or municipal employee should use common sense and just no follow what the regulation says if they disagree with the result. In the case of the Market Cafe, the prior use was a convenience store, which is allowed in the zoning ordinance at this location. A restaurant is not. To make an exception in this case really says: “Let’s just apply the law when we feel like it.”

The Ruthvens are absolutely correct on one point: trying to amend the zoning ordinance is the proper way to address this situation. The rules and regulations in a zoning ordinance are not cast in concrete. They can and should be modified as the community’s needs change. That’s where the energy and public support should be focused in this case. I hope the Market Cafe stays in business. There are still a lot of items on the menu I want to try. Donald A. Meagher Jr. Bangor

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