P&Z Watch: Switch from “Retail Food” to “Restaurant” with Full Liquor License Hits a Snag

A P&Z pre application from Perfect Provenance seeking to change its use from retail to restaurant in order to qualify for a possible liquor license from the state proved to be problematic due to a parking shortage.

The business today is a retail store with Café 47 operating on the first floor. It is already under parked.

The applicant would like to apply for a liquor license from the state of CT, but they wouldn’t be eligible unless they are classified as a restaurant, and the state requires at least 20 seats to be considered a restaurant.

The business only has 5 parking spaces. They hoped to take advantage of adjacent municipal parking lots.

The applicant’s attorney, John Heagney, recalled that the commission had approved a change of use for Myx Kitchen on East Elm Street to move from retail food establishment to restaurant despite not meeting parking requirements.

“We are looking to do something very similar here,” Heagney said.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban pointed out that Perfect Provenance was located near the bottom of Greenwich Avenue where there is a much higher parking demand.

She also noted that Perfect Provenance was more of a destination for multiple friends to meet, each arriving in their own car, rather than benefiting from existing foot traffic.

“As you observed during the briefing (Monday), the commission was concerned because in non-Covid times, those parking lots are full, particularly at mid-day at the bottom of the Avenue,” Alban said.

The town’s rule is that a restaurant is an establishment with more than 12 seats. The commission asked why the applicant seeks 22 seats when the state considers 20 a restaurant.

Heagney said currently, with the entire building considered retail space, they have non conforming parking. Nine spaces are required so they are deficient with just 5 spaces.

He explained that if they change from retail to restaurant the parking requirement would move from being square footage-based to seat-based and need just two more spaces.

“The point of concern here is, in my experience, of your location fills up at lunchtime, just when the Avenue is a crunch,” Alban said. “A lot of people meet there and they drive (and park) as close as they can. It’s not groups of people going together. That’s my sense of it.”

Mr. Heagney said, “I believe our client was struggling, as a lot of restaurant owners are, looking to take advantage of wine, beer and liquor sales in order to bolster the business in a time when restaurants do need that help.”

“I think the commission has been very friendly in accommodating to restaurants in this time of crisis and we would ask them to continue to do so,” he added.

Ms Alban said if the commission approved the request, other businesses off the Avenue would want to follow suit.

“The problem, I know it seems de minimis, two spaces, what are we fussing about? I can give you a long list of other people who would trot right in and ask for the same thing, and theirs won’t be 2 spaces.”

“It’s that special technical consideration we have called, ‘slippery slope,'” Alban said.

Commissioner Peter Lowe asked whether Mr. Heagney had investigated available spaces in nearby privately owned lots, particularly during the evening hours.

Ms DeLuca said there was no provision in the regs for “lot sharing.”

She suggested Mr. Heagney consider proposing a regulation change. “Right now they have to own the property within 1,000 feet.”

“The Perfect Provenance’s business plan does focus on breakfast and lunch service,” Heagney said.

“If the liquor license is so important and you’re really emphasizing breakfast and lunch, most people don’t drink at breakfast,” commented commissioner Dennis Yeskey. “And most people don’t over drink at lunch. You’re not open for dinner?”

“We’re looking to have people come by in the afternoon – after lunch, but prior to dinner service,” Heagney said.

“I think what Mr. Heagney said was code for ‘Happy Hour,'” Alban said.

Commissioner Peter Lowe Lowe said he believed establishments were more profitable when they charged by the glass for a drink.

Town Planner Katie DeLuca suggested the applicant explore seeking a patio permit, since a state outdoor dining bill was likely to pass, as opposed to the executive order, and would extend outdoor dining for a year.

The commission came up with a few ideas for the applicant to explore. Alban asked if the client considered offering retail wine and charging a corking fee.

“You’d be able to sell wine and then the people could buy it upstairs and come downstairs and drink it,” Alban said.

Heagney said an on-premise restaurant made the most sense. “Doing it out of the cafe environment may be more difficult when dealing with the Dept of Liquor Control.”

Alban suggested asking for a waiver from the state liquor commission.

“I’ve done a few liquor permits in my time. They are a very strict bunch,” Heagney said.

Ms Alban said noted that the Board of Selectmen had just last week approved a proposal from Deputy Police Chief Mark Marino for parking for 100 cars business owners and their employees in the 12 hour spaces in municipal lots to alleviate the parking crunch on the Avenue.

Prior to that, he received approval for 100 spots for downtown residents for those lots, given so many people were working from home during the pandemic, and wound up feeding the meters around Greenwich Avenue.

Alban said the timing was tricky. “If we can ease downtown parking with what Deputy Chief Marino was doing, then we could ease up on the parking, but right now we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”

“If Mr. Heagney could have a near term solution by continuing to charge a de-corking fee,” Alban said. “If your client could continue that and wait til we know if the parking issue is working, then we’d be open to a text amendment.”

Mr. Heagney said he and his client would explore the commission’s suggestions.

Perfect Provenance is located at 47 Arch Street, close to multiple municipal parking lots.