P&Z Offer Feedback on Pre App for 300-Seat Mediterranean Restaurant and Event Space Proposed for Liberty Way

This week the P&Z commission reviewed a pre application for a bakery/cafe and 300 seat Mediterranean restaurant at 8 and 10 Lewis Street.

The owners is MH Cohen Realty.

The prospective tenant is New York restaurateur Kosta Giannopoulos of KYMA Greenwich.

Mr. Giannopoulos said he would like seating for 300, though he noted that since there were 4-6 seats at a table, it would never likely meet that capacity.

He said they also hoped to use the restaurant for events.

Attorney Chip Haslun for the applicant said prior to the last tenant, NY Sports Club, the space was home to “Amfit” and that both gyms were approved with a non conforming use (Having a gym on the first floor is a non conforming use.)

Adjacent, Sophia’s has space on both the ground floor and second floor.

Haslun said the applicant sought to move the non conformity to the upstairs.

“You are considering switching to what you consider a less detrimental non conformity on a different floor?” asked P&Z chair Margarita Alban. “Our regulations don’t articulate vertical changes in non conformities. There are towns that do, but ours do not.”

The applicant seeks to create a conforming use on the first floor with a restaurant and bakery, but want a non conforming use on the second floor. Second floor group fitness gym is not allowed per regs (only one-on-one fitness is allowed on second floor), so NY Sports Club’s second floor use was non conforming. The regulations do not articulate vertical changes in non conformities.

Alban said the commission had recently researched this precise situation.

That was likely a reference to 16 Prospect Street where an applicant dug down into the floor of her basement to create what she described as more headroom for a bedroom for her tall son.

If the second floor changes to restaurant, the question was which use has a lesser parking demand.

Haslun said the proposal actually involved two properties.

He said retail stores would remain on Lewis Street.

Sophia’s Costume Shop, however, Haslun said would “disappear.”

Both the fitness center and Sophia’s occupy two stories, though the levels don’t align perfectly. For example, at NY Sports Club there is a mezzanine area plus a former gym equipment area that was down 3-4 steps.

Alban summed up the commission’s two concerns. First and foremost, was the non conformity and whether the new proposal was in fact a less detrimental.

The second issue related to how the floors work inside the building.

The brick buiding that housed NY Sports Club was originally a stable. Then a warehouse, then a gym.

“When you’re ready, walk us through the stories and the uses of the stories,” she said.

The applicant offered the commissioners a site visit so they might better understand the layout of the buildings.

The brick building that housed NY Sports Club was previously a warehouse, and prior to that it was originally a horse stable.

Haslun said that the NY Sports Club had about 3000 members and 1500 active members.

“Really?” Alban asked. “Because I was a member.”

Mr. Haslun said unlike the gym use that people drove to, parked, and then drove home afterward, most of the parking demand for the new restaurant would be in the evening for events and meals.

He said the bakery would have a smaller demand during the lunchtime hour.

“By comparison it wouldn’t be nearly as demanding of parking as the sports club had on Liberty way,” Haslun said.

Ms. Alban said the commission was aware of peak hours for a gym based on an application from Equinox.

“How does this permission to operate a restaurant on the second floor not open up a can of worms for the regulations and for this commission?” asked commissioner Peter Lowe.

Haslun likened the arrangement to the former Asiana location (now Moon) where there are two first floors, one on Putnam Ave and one in the lower level in the back.

“That’s permitted under 6-141,” Haslun said.

Alban said the question was not how many members the gym had before it closed, even prior to the pandemic, but what had been anticipated when it was approved and whether the applicant will require a lower parking demand.

“Those are the questions you have to address,” Alban said. “On this one we have to go by the book, by the regulations. Dealing with CGBR we’ve got to be really careful in how we interpret the regs. Agreed? That’s our job.”

Haslun said all the equipment was gone from the gym and there were no records on the previous 1981 approval.

Alban said the challenge for the applicant will be to figure out the existing parking demand for the gym considering there were no records at town hall and all the gym equipment had been removed.

Haslun said a similar situation had come up in the former Greenwich Time building before it became home to Urban Outfitters.

He said at its peak there were 64 Greenwich Time employees working out of that building. “Therefore, under (former P&Z chair) Richard Maitland we were able to establish what was ghost spaces by which you could allow that building to be changed into Urban Outfitters and an office use.”

“We can do something like that, by way of comparisons, which we will do,” Haslun said.

On Thursday, Sophia Scarpelli, who has operated her Liberty Way costume shop on two floors, an open letter to P&Z commissioner Alban and town officials saying, “I am certainly not a traffic engineer or parking expert, but common sense would dictate that a 300-seat restaurant which would require a substantial workforce and will cater bat mitzvahs, large gatherings and weddings without its own parking lot,  will be a disaster in terms of traffic and parking.”