North Hampton restaurant's carved lobster sparks zoning debate
NORTH HAMPTON - A controversial crustacean is making waves at a popular take-out restaurant.
The company that owns The Beach Plum at 17 Ocean Blvd. has taken from the sea to the courthouse its fight to keep a 900-pound carved lobster statue outside the restaurant.
Barr-Moran Inc. filed an appeal in Rockingham County Superior Court earlier this month after the Board of Adjustment for the Village District of Little Boar's Head denied a variance that would have allowed the lobster to remain standing in a picnic area on the property across from North Hampton State Park.
The board, which is part of the Village District and separate from the town, argued the carving is a sign, and violates local sign regulations because the smiling lobster is too large.
Some board members also fear the lobster, which holds an ice cream cone in each claw and often attracts beach-goers with cameras, could sink property values in the area.
The lobster is one of two on the property. The second is smaller and was allowed to stay next to the take-out window.
The Beach Plum's lawyer, Craig Salomon of North Hampton, said the restaurant never thought of the lobsters as signs.
"They thought of them as interesting artwork and just put them in," he said.
Salomon also said he finds it difficult to make a connection between the lobsters and lower property values.
A licensed appraiser for the restaurant, Jerome Sakurai, found that the lobsters would have no adverse impact on property values and might actually benefit them.
"They promote a family atmosphere at The Beach Plum as opposed to some other use that would be less family-friendly," Salomon said.
The restaurant also seeks a restraining order preventing the Village District from requiring the removal of the lobster or imposing fines while the appeal is pending.
Sharon Cuddy Somers, the Village District's lawyer, didn't want to comment on specifics of the lobster litigation because she hadn't seen the appeal.
The carvings first caught the eyes of code enforcement officials over a year ago. They determined that they were signs and in violation of sign regulations.
The Beach Plum owner challenged the ruling and eventually went to the town's Planning Board, which ordered that the larger carving along the highway be moved to the picnic area.
"We determined that they were, in fact, not signs at all but works of art," said Shep Kroner, Planning Board chairman.
Still, some neighbors don't like the lobsters.
Susan Boies, 69, who owns a summer home next door and has spent most of her life in North Hampton, said she feels they clutter up the property.
Boies said the business, which sits in a residential area, continues to expand and now offers a much bigger menu than it did years ago, when only hot dogs and ice cream were sold. She's worried about the business expanding even more.
"We're trying to get back to residential. We want to go to the beach and not fight crowds. They can go to Hampton Beach if they want restaurants and lots of people," she said.