The good news is the P&Z commission really likes the idea of a the proposed Make-Modern crafts school offering instruction for children and adults in Cos Cob. The location at 216 East Putnam Ave is ideal – between Cos Cob School and Cos Cob Library – and the use is allowed in the LBR zone.
Overall the business follows the public school calendar and would offer both summer and school vacation opportunities for children.
The pre-application however hit one snag: much of the parking lot is owned by the Connecticut Dept of Transportation.
“I believe the parking lot is actually most of it belongs to DOT. Maybe 1-1/2 spaces belong to your client,” P&Z chair Margarita Alban said to Christopher Bristol who is representing the applicant.
“Before you do anything, get with DOT and find out if they are going to continue to allow the parking on their right of way. Otherwise we cannot approve that with only 1-1/2 spaces,” she said.
Also, Alban asked Mr. Bristol to advise DOT that there will be children dropped off in front of the building.
“The scary non-starter here is the parking,” Alban said. “That’s the biggest hold up.”
Alban said there were also concerns about where adults would park given there might eventually be a retail use of the “orange” house, and the parking demands would need to be compatible.
Mr. Bristol said the orange house was currently had two apartments and tenants park at the rear.
Ms Alban said she recalled there had been retail in the orange house, at ground level, under the apartments.
The single story building at the rear previously used as a cafe is not part of the application.
Mr. Bristol shared a map from 1929, noting that gas pumps in the state of CT right of way.
“It may have been in the same configuration for 100 years, but DOT is a different ballgame today,” Alban said, adding that she had asked DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel about policy with CT DOT.
“You need to make sure they are going to allow you to keep parking there,” she said. “We can’t approve something that counts on parking that you don’t own.”
“With the use you’re proposing, you may need to indemnify the DOT,” Alban continued. “You’re going to have a drop-off for small kids, and they’re going to need to know about that.”
Mr. Bristol said based on the Make Modern location in Darien, children are not all dropped off at once.
The business owners testified that children’s classes have a “rolling start.”
In addition to the DOT issue, Ms Alban asked the applicant to return with a detailed plan about how young children would come into the building.
“We felt like in the evening (for adults) the parking would be better,” Alban said. “You have a good situation on that block where even when there is no parking on the street, nobody uses that parking lot. You should be okay once DOT says yes, you can continue to use it….Or Mr. Bristol may be able to find some documents that say in perpetuity you may use this lot.”
The applicant said that while DOT owns the parking lot, the property owner since 1978 had repaved it several times and plowed it in the winter.
“He’s actually asked (the state) to be involved and help with asphalting over the years and they are not interested.”
“The DOT doesn’t like to spend money, but if you’re on their property they can be touchy,” Alban said. “We know that because we get permits from them.”
Commissioner Peter Levy described the parking lot as chronically neglected. “It would be nice clear that up and understand how that’s going to be maintained – and striped.”
The parking lot is not striped and it has potholes.
Ms Alban said there were examples in town where DOT rents out their land and has arrangements for parking.
“One of the offices on River Road rents the DOT space underneath I-95, for example,” Alban said to Mr. Bristol.
Mr. Bristol said he would pursue the DOT.
Ms Alban apologized to the applicants for having to wait several hours to testify, but she said, “Your business idea sounds great and I hope we can figure out a way to do this because it sounds like it would be a lot of fun.”