BELLOWS FALLS — The owner of the Miss Bellows Falls Diner said Thursday he won’t stop work on the new entrance to the historic diner, despite repeated “cease and desist” warnings from the town.
Brian McAllister of Westminster, who also owns Father’s Restaurant in Westminster, said that originally he didn’t think he needed a zoning permit to replace the dilapidated and unsafe southern entrance to the diner.
McAllister is doing the work himself, and on Thursday at the scene, he said that he had finally applied for a zoning permit, but that he had no intention of tearing down what he had already built or stopping construction, since the sale of the building depended on it.
He said he had gone to Rockingham Zoning Administrator Chuck Wise’s office four times, without Wise returning his call.
The town has been battling with McAllister since 2017 over the entrance, and Wise has visited the diner several times in recent weeks since McAllister started work on the new entrance on Oct. 1, according to Wise’s letter to McAllister outlining the zoning violation .
“The Bellows Falls Diner was built circa the 1940s and is architecturally unique amongst historic diners,” Wise wrote. “The entrance under construction does not appear to conform to any known historic preservation or architectural standard.”
Additionally, Wise wrote, the zoning application that McAllister did file “needed clarity on the basic scope of work.”
Wise also wrote that Gary Fox, the Rockingham development director, was willing to work with McAllister, with design and funding. The town gave McAllister seven days to remove the new entry way.
McAllister said his new construction was different than what he had torn down: It is bigger than the older entrance and is oriented away from Rockingham Street. But he said it was better and safe: enclosed and with the entrance shielded. “I’m not against getting a permit,” he said. “But I’m against how long it takes to get one,” he added.
McAllister said he has a potential new buyer for the closed diner but that as part of the deal, McAllister agreed to build a new southern entrance. The northern entrance, which is made up of glass bricks, is also in poor condition, McAllister noted.
He said the potential new owner is from Springfield and works in the food industry.
McAllister said he wanted to get the diner open and running for people in the community, and because of that he had accepted a much lower price for the diner than what he paid for it.
“I paid $85,000 for it, and she offered $60,000, and I took it,” McAllister said. “It’s more important to get it open.”
McAllister has owned the diner for eight years; he has owned Father’s for about 30 years, he said.
Town Manager Scott Pickup said that the town was trying to get McAllister to comply with zoning regulations and so far he hasn’t.
According to Pickup and documents sent to McAllister from Wise, the diner needs a permit from the Development Review Board because it is in the downtown historic design review district. The diner is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town has threatened McAllister with a $200 a day fine for every day he doesn’t have a permit, and he said they even sent a Bellows Falls police officer to threaten him.
McAllister countered by saying he took pains not to attach the new entrance directly to the building.
“Nothing is screwed or attached to the building,” he said.