06-10 Hermit Woods Bob

Bob Manley, one of the founders of Hermit Woods Winery and Deli, sits on the winery's deck at 72 Main Street in Meredith. In the background is the beer and wine garden at 62 Main, where Hermit Woods has a temporary permit to operate. The business on the far side of the lot is appealing that permit. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

MEREDITH — Two businesses on Main Street are at odds over how the parcel of land between them should be used this summer, and a town board will meet tonight to determine whether the temporary permit issued to allow a beer and wine garden should be rescinded or amended.

At question is the lot at 62 Main Street, a 0.19-acre parcel that contains a small building of some historic note, but which has been sitting unused for about 15 years.

On the lot sits a small building, which was built in either 1935 or 1945, depending on which source is trusted. Either way, it was first built to house an Esso gas station, which was in business until around 1960. It was then used as a gallery for Bob Montana of “Archie” comic fame, then was a doctor’s office, and finally a lamp shop. It’s been dark since 2005 or 2006.

Hermit Woods Winery & Deli, which operates at 72 Main Street – just across Dover Street from the lot – purchased the property this winter with plans to develop the parcel in the future. Bob Manley, one of the owners of Hermit Woods, said the company isn’t ready to discuss what that development might look like, and added that it might be a year or two before a long-term plan is put into action. In the meantime, he said he and his partners didn’t want to see the lot sit vacant for another summer, so they approached the town to see what they could do with the property.

“It turned out that a six-month temporary permit was the most appropriate tool,” Manley said. The permit allows Hermit Woods to serve beer and wine – and wine slushies – to patrons seated at picnic tables, to park two food trucks onsite, and to host live musical performances.

Manley said the beer and wine garden opened for Memorial Day Weekend, and has been a “very mellow, very calm, lovely way to sit in downtown Meredith and enjoy the day.” They are currently operating the beer and wine garden as staffing levels permit, and plan to be open from noon to “six-ish,” Manley said, every day except Monday starting in July.

The reception has been generally positive, according to Manley, but at least one other downtown business disagreed with the issuance of the temporary permit. James Emery, of Emery & Garrett Groundwater Investigations, has petitioned the town for an administrative decision appeal, which will be heard by the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment tonight, June 10. The meeting will be held at the Community Center and will begin at 7 p.m. Masks are requested.

EGGI, a consulting group that provides water supply services locally and abroad, operates out of 56 Main Street. Emery said the beer and wine garden is located right outside of his windows. He said he didn’t know of Hermit Woods’ plans for this summer until the permit had already been issued.

“We are not opposed to this business being prosperous/successful," Emery said in a statement. "We wish 62 Main Street success. We are, however, opposed to not being informed by the landowners of the new land use. This was done behind closed doors. We are also opposed to having no limitations placed in the permit on any of these activities. For example, there is nothing in the permit to prevent 62 Main Street from setting up a live band (or other music) and/or bar, and/or a food truck immediately outside our office windows at any time of the day (week or weekends). The noise from such activities, if carried out to the extent they could, would be very detrimental to our professional business,” Emery said.

Emery requested that the ZBA require Hermit Woods to move the food trucks and musical performances to the Dover Street side of the lot, limit playing of music to weekends and holidays after 1 p.m., establish a sound level limit for the music, address safety concerns related to patrons crossing Dover Street, provide a plan for where patrons will park, and limit the number of people at the beer and wine garden to 50 – about a third of its current maximum capacity – at least for the first 60 days.

“We are not opposed to the land use changes on 62 Main Street. We want Meredith to prosper. We simply want reasonable amendments to be made to this special permit that provides protection to the business that we have established here for the past 33 years,” Emery said.

Manley said he hopes the ZBA will allow him and his partners to operate the beer and wine garden for this summer, and possibly for another summer – a return in 2022 would require a more involved site plan review.

“There is a strong likelihood” that the beer and wine garden could return for another summer, while Hermit Woods prepares its long-term plans for the property, Manley said. “Is it better for the town that the corner of Main and Dover streets be vacant for 15 years, or is it better that business is being done there?”

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