The recent news that Shake Shack wants to open at 1205 East Putnam Ave in Riverside was met with enthusiasm. The popular eatery is known for its all-natural burgers, flat-top dogs, frozen custard, beer, wine and more.
Some of the challenges of the proposed location were discussed during the P&Z staff briefing on Monday and followed by discussion around midnight at the full meeting on Tuesday.
The ingress/egress is tricky given it is so close to the heavily trafficked intersection with Neil Lane and the I95 Exit 5 interchange.
The applicant proposes to use the existing curb cut, which is adjacent to McDonald’s.
The I95 interchange is the highest trafficked exit in Greenwich because both north and southbound traffic both come through the same traffic light, and there is a history of crashes.
Traffic for the adjacent McDonald’s relies on this intersection, as does Riverside Commons, where there are numerous eateries. Local traffic from the residential neighborhood to the north also funnels through this intersection.
The application will involve a change of use from residential – the existing two-family house was built in 1900 – to business, and require a special permit to become a restaurant.
Because a special permit is required, the commission can consider off-site impacts such as traffic.
That means the applicant will be asked for traffic as well as accident data.
There was a lot of discussion about how a left turn out of Shake Shack onto East Putnam Ave would be problematic because of the median and double-yellow lines.
Attorney John Heagney for the applicant said they believed the site layout provided a safe ingress/egress, but that Tighe & Bond was looking into it, and would assess the Darien location data to make sure there are as many conclusions and benefits as possible.
Exiting out the back of the property onto Neil Lane would not be allowed. Per the town regulations, when a commercial use has frontage on a main road it cannot exit out to the residential neighborhood.
That option was considered when the previous application for an apartment building submitted under 6-110, which incentivizes workforce housing.
That leaves one option: patrons who want to head east would take a right onto East Putnam, a right onto Neil Lane, and loop through that residential road to the traffic light.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca noted noted the entire neighborhood behind Riverside Commons also funnels through the intersection and there is no more queue capacity. Also, the sidewalk does not extend the full length of Neil Lane, though it is a popular pedestrian route. She suggested major intersection improvements might be necessary.
Commissioner Nick Macri described the permanent median on East Putnam Ave as “the Achilles’ heel.”
He suggested the applicant might move the entrance/egress further to the west so patrons are beyond the median.
Ms Alban noted that in such a high traffic site at rush hour, even if there weren’t a double yellow line which is illegal to cross, it would be dangerous for cars to turn turn left.
Restaurant or Fast Food?
The commission talked about the difference between Fast Food an a Restaurant.
Attorney Heagney said the applicant wants Shake Shack to be considered a Restaurant rather than fast food.
He explained that the Greenwich Shake Shack would offer alcohol service. He noted that for liquor license purposes, they would have to be considered a restaurant with at least 20 seats. He said that requires 18 parking spaces.
Fast Food restaurants have a higher *parking requirement than Restaurants.
The town’s definition of fast food is that the food is wrapped, as opposed to packaged, like a bag of potato chips at a deli.
With Fast Food, by Greenwich’s definition, the establishment offers, “a limited menu whose principal business is the sale of quickly prepared foods, frozen desserts or beverages to the patron in a ready to consume state, primarily served in paper, plastic or other disposable plates or containers with disposable utensils…”
A restaurant, by definition, prepares and sells “…unpackaged food to the patron in a ready-to consume state, with non-disposable dishes, containers and utensils, and where the patron consumes these foods while seated at tables or counters located within the building, except where the establishment has been granted an outdoor dining permit. Such establishments may not provide drive-thru services.”
The regulations were written this way intentionally as a way to stop the proliferation of fast food restaurants.
It was noted that if alcohol is served, patrons might linger longer.
“They have an emphasis on the sit own dining experience, the hospitality and most importantly the focus of alcohol service for customers,” Mr. Heagney said.
“Our definition may stink,” Alban said, referring to the Fast Food definition reference to food wrapped in paper and disposable utensils, etc. “Feel free Mr. Heagney to give us a new definition. Give us a text amendment. Give us something that make sense. You knew what we were trying to stop in Greenwich. We didn’t want anymore Wendy’s and McDonald’s.”
Comparisons with the Darien Shake Shack were tricky because at exit 11, the exit and entrance to I95 are separated.
There was a question about whether all the proposed parking was necessary given there may be a great deal of take out and delivery. The commission said the applicant might want to submit the application with fewer tables to reduce the parking requirement.
Screening and Landscaping
The commission had screening and landscaping questions, and John Conte, landscape architect the applicant, said he’d worked with S.E. Minor & Co to see where trees might be located on the site. There is a row of Hemlocks, but they are in rough shape. Mr. Conte said there could be “a robust rear planting line.”
Ms Alban said if there was a way to reduce the number tables and reduce the required parking, more trees could be planted.
During public comment Barbara and Stanton Goldberg, adjacent residential neighbors, said they have experienced flooding since they bought their property in 1992. They said recently they had to replace hot water heaters, boilers and a washer & dryer because they flooded about 15 inches into the basement and their two sump pumps couldn’t keep up.
“We want to know how they are going to control water,” Barbara Goldberg said.
Robert Forstbauer, a resident of 24 Neil Lane, directly across from the back of the proposed Shake Shack, said he was very concerned about exacerbating traffic on Neil Lane.
“They’re going to make the right onto Putnam and loop around on Neil Lane to get back onto 95. It’s already a disaster…It’s insane,” he said.
Mr. Forstbauer suggested making Neil Lane one way out of the neighborhood, so Shake Shack patrons wouldn’t loop through the residential neighborhood.
He said he anticipated Shake Shack would put a sign on I95 advertising encouraging people to get off the highway.
He said personally he enjoyed Shake Shack and he anticipated it will be popular in Greenwich.
However, he noted that on the other side of the intersection, at Riverside Commons, there is already Jersey Mike’s, Chopt, McDonald’s and Chipotle. Also Italian Village Pizzeria recently replaced Pomodoro Trattoria.
*Fast Food Restaurant: 1 per 2 persons, seated and standee dining capacity plus 14 (queuing) spaces for each drive-up window. (5/4/2005; 9/28/2010)
Restaurant Required parking shall be the standard of 1 per 3 persons seated and standing dining capacity; plus 1 per 2 persons for seated and standing bar capacity based on the greater of the following:
(a) the seating as presented on the floor plan submitted:
(b) the maximum seating capacity based on the occupancy limits set by the fire code.
Plus additional parking for employees equaling 20% of required parking. Parking designated for employees may have smaller dimensions than required as determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
In the event the restaurant has drive-through food pick-up service, in addition to required parking, there shall be at least 10 queuing spaces per operation window. The space between the required parking spaces and queuing spaces shall be sufficient for the safe and convenient movement of all traffic on the site.
Space for up to 20% of required parking may, as determined by the Planning and Zoning Commission, be in a reserve grassed or other permeable areas that is not striped for parking. In the event such reserve parking is needed or a regular bases for parking, the area shall be paved and striped. (5/4/2005)