For two years, Richmonders have traveled down River Road to a haven where they have spent hours at a time chatting with friends, while sitting among brilliantly colored roses, tulips and plumbago. They have sipped tea and nibbled dainty scones and sandwiches, dreaming of the Mother Country. But customers of this Utopia known as The English Garden may not realize that the business is not lying on a bed of roses. The Goochland County tearoom and gift shop could be on the brink of closing.
Neighbors, who claim partners Norman Harvey, Charlie Reed and Charles Reed (father and son, respectively) do not have proper zoning to run their restaurant, have reported them to the zoning administrator. The partners will meet with the Planning Commission July 22 and the Board of Supervisors in September.
Although The English Garden opened in June 1997, a general store, gas station and other businesses have existed at the location since the 1940s. When the property was zoned by Goochland County in 1969, the existing business at the time was given a nonconforming use despite the residential location.
The neighborhood meeting that was held July 14 to discuss the issue was clearly divided between Goochland residents who support The English Garden and those who vehemently oppose it. Neighbors tried hard to be cordial with one another, but tempers erupted.
Chuck McDonald, who lives across from the tearoom, shouted at the English Garden's attorneys from the back of the small Second Baptist Church chapel where the meeting was held. Some applauded his outburst concerning the owners of the English Garden "Obey the law or get out" others just rolled their eyes.
Ray Ruth, president of the Lower Tuckahoe Neighborhood Association, said the partners did not express the intention of running a restaurant when they first opened the business. "What was told to me and what he is doing now are two different things," she says.
Charlie Reed disagreed, claiming that he and the other partners explained their plans to the county and received a restaurant license.
Now, the business is trying to clear up the uses of the property in two ways. It is proposing a change from residential zoning to a restricted agricultural zoning and is also applying for a conditional use permit that would limit the business's hours, seating and size. "We're trying to resolve this amicably once and for all," said John Easter, an attorney for The English Garden.
In this posh Eastern Goochland subdivision with a SUV gentility, neighbors are concerned about the alcohol license the business received in April. "There was all sorts of stuff flying around about what we were going to do with the license," says Harvey, adding that the license was a "sticky point" with some neighbors. According to Harvey, one rumor claimed The English Garden was going to become The English Pub, which he firmly refutes, explaining that he and the other partners only want to serve wine and microbrewed beer in the tearoom and sell wine in the shop.
Neighbors also oppose the potential growth of the business. "A lot of people in our community agree with the concept of the tea garden, but my concern is that the concept of the tea garden is a moving target," said Lower Tuckahoe resident David Greenberg, who is unsure about what The English Garden's tearoom might become.
Residents fear the development of other businesses as well. But Charles Reed says that such alarm is unnecessary. "One concern of the neighbors is that if we can do it, everyone else can do it. But they can't. Everyone must go through the same process [of rezoning]."
While some Goochland residents griped about The English Garden at the meeting, others praised it as an amenity to the community. Lower Tuckahoe resident Tom Garner said he supports the owners. "They are people of exceptional integrity. They took an old building that had been abandoned, and they made a beautiful English Garden and tearoom," he said, adding, "It's a real touch of class."
Charlie Reed expressed disappointment toward his opposition. "We've tried to make something that you would be proud of," he said. "I hate to see you trying to tear it
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