Time Capsule: Whither the ButterGirl kitchen?

I’m writing this post on July 9, 2011, but saving it for later publication.

ButterGirl and I bought this house so that we could segregate the business.  I love cookies. But around Christmas, I hate cookies.  She needs space to bake, cool, package, pack, and ship.  Did I mention that we live in about 1200 square feet?  Her business needs at least 600 when it’s busy.  That means that she annexes the dining and living rooms.  And the idea is to be busy more and more days of the year.

Last night we learned that the zoning office has complicated matters by reading the zoning bylaws very strictly.  So first a word about residential kitchens and businesses.  ButterGirl has had a health-department certified residential kitchen in Somerville for nearly two years.  The certification allows her to run a small food business provided she meets a number of requirements about food storage, equipment, staffing, and pest prevention.  She’s been very particular about meeting city and state requirements.  And they have been fair and agreeable.  You get the sense that they’d like small businesses like this to have a chance of succeeding during the early stages of development.

Before we put in an offer on 12MHR, ButterGirl talked with the town health inspector and inspectional services.  They agreed that it would should be easy for her to certify a residential kitchen here, too.  Then last week, when she was doing some research for me to confirm that the little accessory apartment above the garage was really rentable, she talked to the zoning administrator.  We need that rental income to make the numbers work.

She asked about the ButterGirl residential kitchen in the garage, by way of confirming our reading of the bylaws.  ButterGirl believes in following the rules.  She also hates to blundering into problems that can be prevented.  We and our attorney believed that the zoning bylaws permitted us to fit out a residential kitchen “by right.”  Apparently, opinions differ.

To get approved as residential kitchen under current zoning, she was  told, we can make the case that similar businesses in comparable towns – excluding Somerville or Arlington or Medford – operate similar businesses.  If we successfully argue it, then ButtterGirl can operate in the kitchen in the house.  I won’t comment on the “comparable towns” requirement because, without other guidelines, it implies an empty elitism.  Maybe I have more to learn about the objective measures of what’s comparable.

To approve the residential kitchen in the garage, we need to apply to the zoning board and be rejected – we were assured the application would be rejected – to earn the right to appeal.  The appeal would, in due time, make its way to the zoning board.  Zoning boards, to put it politely, are conservative by nature and not inclined toward exceptions, precedents, or one-offs.  It appears ButterGirl would be one of those.

So, as we discussed the house with a prospective architect and contractor, the discussion turned to how to update the kitchen to become the business kitchen, and where could storage go, and where could pack and ship go.  We could set ButterGirl up in a different temporary kitchen in the house, but it may not be temporary.

Until we find a solution, we have new bigger mortgage and business in the kitchen, living room, and dining room.  And its in a house that needs many expensive repairs.