Weston restaurant plan appears defeated

By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / December 2, 2009

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A controversial plan to turn an 18th-century building owned by the Town of Weston into a 150-seat restaurant and bar now appears to be off the table.

Voters at a special Town Meeting defeated a request Monday night for an additional $300,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to finish design work to turn the historic Josiah Smith Tavern and Barn into an upscale restaurant and function space. An adjacent building known as the Old Library would also be renovated for office space.

It was a stunning reversal for an estimated $9 million initiative that has been in the works since 2002, coming just two months after the town hired a professional restaurant group to run the operation and six months after it issued the first-ever restaurant liquor license in Weston.

The town has already spent $750,000 on design work, but needed more money to complete construction drawings to put the project out to bid early next year.

“We were so close,’’ said Andrew Marvel, chairman of the Josiah Smith Tavern and Old Library Committee. “I knew it was going to be a fight,’’ Marvel said of the 545-to-435 vote. “The town spoke loud and clear that they do not want a restaurant.’’

Marvel said that even if there is no restaurant, the buildings are in such dire condition that the town will have to spend at least $6.5 million to bring the property up to code.

“The sad thing people aren’t understanding is we’re going to have to put a septic system in, we’re going to have to put parking in there,’’ said Marvel. “We’re just putting off the inevitable.’’

Resident James R. Ullman said moving forward would be “highly irresponsible’’ right now.

“At a time when literally millions of citizens in this country are losing jobs and homes, I am ashamed to admit that my town is considering the frivolous expenditure of $9 million in public funds to finance construction of a high-end restaurant,’’ Ullman wrote in an e-mail to the Globe before the vote.

“Arguably one of the wealthiest towns in the Commonwealth and, to a degree, insulated from the financial storms, the town, at best, is displaying remarkably poor taste,’’ Ullman wrote.

Clergy and many from St. Julia Church oppose the project, saying it would harm the church, which abuts the tavern parking lot on Boston Post Road in the town center. The Rev. George P. Evans said his primary concern is the disruption the project would cause with traffic, parking, safety, noise, and vehicle lights. The close proximity of a bar was less of a worry, he said.

“I don’t think any of us are opposed to a restaurant,’’ said parishioner Michael Glynn, “just one where the town spends millions of dollars so that a restaurateur can run a for-profit business there for just $125,000 annually in rent.’’ Glynn is also a member of an opposition group.