This month, the P&Z commission discussed a pre-application for a new eatery in Cos Cob. The property is located at 147 East Putnam Ave in the former Starbucks building.
Located in the LBR2 zone, it was once home to a gas station.
The property owner is Cos Cob Pond LLC and the tenant is Wildacre LLC, who, according to the application, seek to do operate a rotisserie chicken business named Ben’s Rotisserie.
The applicants is allowed, as of right, to operate retail food establishment, but they also discussed a possible approval for restaurant use with 20 seats and the possibility of a liquor license.
The building is one story and about 1500 sq ft.
Retail food use limits seating to to 12. There are 7 parking spots and one ADA spot on site.
Back in 2005, there was a settlement of a Zoning appeal to allow Starbucks to operate as a Retail Food Use, in 2005.
That settlement required employees to park at the shopping center behind Fjord Fish Market where there are three parking spaces subject to an an easement.
A second condition required a $25,000 improvement bond be posted related to the Strickland public parking spaces, making them short term.
Third, the settlement required a public access easement for the town along the pond for a potential boardwalk.
“My client has already started putting together permitting packages to submit for building permits for an as of right use as a retail store with 12 seats,” said Chris Bristol said at the March 1 P&Z meeting. “The concept is to elevate it a little bit, the term is fast casual. The concept is it’s not completely fast food. It’s also not table service. There’s no bar proposed. It’s a proposed turnaround of 30 to 45 minutes, with a good mix of people – some getting take out and some eating for a little bit on site.”
Bristol said the applicant would ideally like to have 20 seats, which is a requirement to apply for a liquor license. He said between the 7 spaces on site and 3 off site, there would be 10 spaces.
“In that way I think we meet the required parking,” he said.
In terms of traffic, Mr. Bristol said the peaks of the rotisserie business traffic would be lower than traffic peaks of Starbucks, and would not coincide with school traffic. Greenwich High School, Central Middle School and Cos Cob School are all nearby and generate significant traffic at start time and dismissal.
The commissioners said it was difficult to determine the number of seats proposed by virtue of the seating plan presented. Specifically, a proposed banquette might result in the seating exceeding 12.
“To be honest, all of us who had been to that Starbucks a million times before it closed – we all know it had more than 12 seats,” P&Z chair Margarita Alban said. “Many of us saw it and reported it, and the seats would go away for a while.”
Commissioner Nick Macri said if landscaping was proposed, the applicant should connect with the Town’s Greenscape Committee.
“This particular property has a visual block to the Mill Pond and we were trying to figure out how to open that up. If the property owner was amenable, we have a couple different ideas on that.”
Most of the discussion focused on traffic and parking, and how much worse it might potentially be if the use was upgraded to restaurant.
Alban recalled the days when cars waiting to park at Starbucks would back up onto Putnam Avenue.
“It’s bad enough that it’s hard to turn left and people always tried that, but the issue is there isn’t enough queuing space – it’s not a property that was designed for that.”
She suggested if the applicant returned with an application for final approvals, they present trip generation numbers at peak times and traffic generated per hour.
“You are going to get some walk in traffic,” she said. “But the question is what are you generating in vehicle traffic? You’re going to have to convince us that this is not going to be a monster problem and that you’re not going to create accidents and backups.”
“Intuitively, if you give me a glass of wine I might camp myself out for a lot longer,” Alban said.
“You might be inundated just as a retail spot,” Alban added. “If you could set yourself up for good carry-out, you would be in great shape. I think it’s going to be a home run. It’s diversity in the Cos Cob food offerings. In Greenwich, people like to eat. The Thai place is opening and doesn’t have any overlap with you because it’s dumplings and soup. We have the pizza. We have the pasta. We have Indian food.”
Alban said since the pandemic, Cos Cob had become “the toddler town.”
“I think you are hitting the sweet spot for the carry out,” she said.
“They’ve never had liquor at this spot,” said commissioner Dennis Yeskey. “What happens is you might technically qualify, but flagrantly you’re in violation of common sense.”
Yeskey said he too believed a take-out rotisserie business could be a success, especially if they offered delivery service. “I think it’s going to be a big success without liquor,” he said.
“I would love for anyone to stand up and say parking at this site has been adequate,” Yeskey added. “Parking here is woefully inadequate.”
Alban said the applicant hadn’t mentioned if they would need parking for delivery vehicles.
During public comment, Willing Biddle said his company owned the shopping center across the street, with fronts from CVS to Dominoe’s. He said when Starbucks was in business, customers would parallel park on his side of the street or in his parking lot.
“When Starbucks was operating there, customers would parallel park along this side of the road and either walk through the lobby by CVS or down the alleyway between Domino’s and the fish store, and run across the traffic on Route 1.”
“There was just never enough parking. We’ve owned that property for about 10 years. For a while we told people to move. It became overwhelming and a nightmare. It’s impossible to enforce it.”
Biddle said he feared that even with a heavy take-out business, there will be an even greater demand on parking than for Starbucks.
“With no crosswalk in that area, and not enough parking, I think they’re trying to fit 20 lbs of flour in a 5 lb bag over there,” Biddle added. “We don’t want to continue being the parking lot for that property.”
“Start small,” Alban said to Mr. Bristol. “Let’s start out with the baby step.”
The property at 147 East Putnam Ave is owned by Cos Cob Pond LLC, which according to the CT Secretary of State website is registered to Maria Drakotos of Bronx, NY and Penelope Drakotos Kassaris of Greenwich.