A proposal before the Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission would redevelop the building where Sophia’s Costume Shop has operated for 40 years, plus the vacant New York Sports Club space.
The applicants, MH Cohen Realty LLC, who owns the mixed use building at 8 and 10 Lewis Street, also known as 6 Liberty Way, and Kyma Greenwich, the prospective Mediterranean restaurant tenant, Kyma Greenwich.
Kyma also has locations the Flatiron Building in NYC and Roslyn on Long Island.
In addition to the restaurant, the proposal would convert portions of the building into a retail bakery and a marketplace.
The former sports club was legally non conforming. That was significant. Health clubs are no longer allowed to operate on the first floor. At one point the goal was for something less nonconforming than the health club.
That changed recently when P&Z approved a text amendment proposed for the vacant Ralph Lauren building to allow a second floor restaurant, with conditions: The building must have no more than two floors and the restaurant’s ground and second floors must be served by one kitchen.
At this week’s P&Z meeting, there was discussion about whether Kyma Greenwich was indeed a second floor restaurant, considering it would be accessed at ground floor level via Lewis Street.
They propose 247 seats (198 in the dining area, plus 49 in the bar) plus 12 seats in the marketplace.
Commissioner Nick Macri said the reg requires “one kitchen on one floor, serving two floors of a restaurant.”
“Now we have kind of an upside down cake,” said P&Z director Katie DeLuca.
As for having a single kitchen, the applicant’s attorney Chip Haslun, said the second kitchen, proposed for the level under the restaurant, was actually “a service kitchen” for the restaurant, and would meet the new text amendment.
“In the basement of restaurants, as you know, you’ll have prep space, dishwashers, rinsing, things like that,” he said. “You could say, there’s no stoves down there, no ovens. You might have some freezers. All of the actual cooking would take place upstairs.”
Mr. Haslun said his client would be willing to remove the 12 seats from the marketplace if the commission saw that as a second restaurant and the secondary kitchen area could be limited to dish washing, prep and cold storage.
“Would that satisfy it?” Haslun asked.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the purpose of the new regulation was to not have two separate restaurant establishments on two floors.
“This is a fairly new concept where you have these mixed uses. They’re becoming quite common and they’re fun, and attract people to congregate, which I think we’re looking for on the Avenue,” Haslun said. “However, regulations don’t necessarily contemplate this kind of mixed use.”
Ms Alban said regulations “purposefully” did not try to achieve mixed use. But, she said, “Now that’s what people want…It’s a different world.”
“I think this works,” she added. “You have a fantastic situation here in terms of access because you have ground floor on both.”
During public comment, Trudy Calandrillo questioned the narrative of the application referring to space “formerly occupied Sofia’s.”
“New York Sports Club has been gone for some time, but she isn’t,” Calandrillo said. “She is celebrating her 40th anniversary. She’s pretty much getting kicked out.”
Attorney Jonathan Martin said he had been retained earlier in the day to represent neighboring properties owned by Sutton Properties.
“There’s a big concern from neighboring businesses about cannibalizing parking,” Mr. Martin said, adding that there were concerns about traffic spilling out from the parking lot to Lewis Street.
Mr. Haslun said the Zoning Enforcement Officer made a finding that there were two ground floor uses.
“He accepted the idea that there was a restaurant accessed from Lewis Street, on a ground floor.”
Ms Alban found a comparison with the Apple Store, which replaced for former movie theater that operated on two levels. The commission had concluded it was a ground floor, plus a basement.
“Mr. Martin’s point is it does not comply with the regulation, right? We were trying to keep from having two separate restaurants in one building.”
“This is iffy because there is no public connection between the two floors, and the kitchen has not been defined as one central kitchen. That still has to be worked out,” said commissioner Nick Macri. “Conversely, is (the restaurant) on the first floor and the market is the basement?”
“Exactly, that’s the real question,” Alban said.
“We’re not making an application to have a two story restaurant,” Mr. Haslun said. “The regulations say that a ground floor is anything within 18″ of the curb. What you have here is two ground floors. They’re both within 18″ of the curb.”
“Your second concern is it has a lot of seats, and it will use up a lot of parking,” Ms Alban said, referring to Mr. Martin’s comments. “I share your concern, but it conforms with our regulation, so there’s not anything we can do about the parking demand.”
The restaurant would be exempt from parking requirements because the properties fall between the front and rear building lines.
“If we have almost 300 seats, everyone is pulling in from Lewis Street. This is probably the biggest restaurant in town,” Mr. Martin said. “I called L’Escale today just to get a visual on how big this is going to be. L’Escale, on the inside and outside is 120 (seats). This is going to have an impact.”
“That’s a very good point,” Alban said. “Your comments are well taken and helpful.”
Mr. Martin said tenants of Sutton Properties had been calling with concerns about the impact this project would have on their businesses.
“It’s a special permit issue,” DeLuca said of the traffic analysis. “It’s a point well taken.”
Attorney Haslun explained why the property is exempt from parking requirements.
“With the front and rear building lines – the building owners get the benefit of the bargain they made wit the town in the 1960s, which was to be free of the parking requirement in return for giving the land to the town, which is what MH Cohen did,” Haslun said. “I suggest that Sutton Properties did the same thing, and has benefited with all their properties on Greenwich Avenue where they don’t have to have any parking.”
Ms Alban if the entrance to the restaurant was on Lewis Street as proposed, patrons would look for parking in the municipal lot behind CVS as well as in the Liberty Way lot.
“It’ll serve the local business owners better,” she added.
She said the trip generation data would be useful.
Mr. Martin suggested that lunch traffic and dinner traffic be assessed differently.
During public comment, Sonia Malloy, the owner of the Splurge gift shop on Lewis Street, said, “On a daily basis, outside our doors, horns are honking. There are accidents on a bi-weekly basis. There are concerns about pedestrians crossing in the middle of the road…”
“If it does become an event hall and there are events during the day on Saturday and Sunday, that will have a significant impact on the retailers in this area,” Malloy said. “That type of parking required for a 200 or 250-person event on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is going to impede retail.”
Sophia Scarpelli, owner of Sophia’s said she was concerned for the viability of the remaining businesses.
“If anybody in town knows this parking lot, it’s me. I’ve been here for 40 years. I’m here every day. I think the impact is going to be even worse than you expect,” she said. “I know I’m gone. This is not about me.”
Scarpelli asked the commission to consider the impact of delivery trucks.
“What impact is this going to have when this giant restaurant opens up, and they’ll have linen people bringing stuff in. And they’re going to have balloons, because they have weddings, bar mitzvahs and other things. I know because I called (their other location). They are primarily a hall for parties.”
“Please don’t tell us they’re not going to have lunches because in order for a restaurant to be successful, they have to have lunch too. And lunch is big,” she continued. “I see Orienta and Le Penguin do a great business at lunch. Myrna’s does a great business at lunch. Something Natural does a great business at lunch. So does Terra. Where are these other 200 people going to park?”
“Let’s be realistic. There is no parking now, and this restaurant is going to make a giant impact on the whole entire town and other little businesses,” Scarpelli added.
The P&Z chair Ms Alban asked the applicant to return with data, including a traffic study showing peak hours and suggested mitigation strategies.
“You might end up with a different number of seats,” she said.
“If there are problems downtown with traffic, I think you’re burdening this particular property owner with that issue,” Mr. Haslun said.
“To the point that Mr. Martin made, this is a very large restaurant in the context of the Avenue and it’s a fair question for the commission to ask you, especially because you are not only bringing in a restaurant, you are bringing in three new uses at the same time,” Alban said. “I don’t think you should feel victimized by the commission.”
“In many ways it’s exciting because the change could be revitalizing, but we should also make sure it doesn’t damage the surrounding businesses,” she added.
The application was left open.