P&Z Watch: New Uses for Former Ralph Lauren Building Receive Favorable Response

The pre application for a new use for 257-265 Greenwich Avenue, the vacant Ralph Lauren building that was built in 2007, was presented to Planning & Zoning Wednesday evening.

The vacant Ralph Lauren building on Greenwich Ave. Feb 12, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

The two story commercial building has been vacant for three years, and the applicant wants to convert its use from retail use to mixed commercial with a restaurant on the ground floor, bicycle oriented transportation center in the basement and a unique lounge with meeting spaces on the second floor.

Representing the applicant was Jackie Kaufman, attorney with Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, LLP out of Stamford. She said the applicant was Streetworks Development LLC, but that would not be the name of the transportation center or restaurant.

Kaufman described Streetworks as the development arm of Hudson’s Bay Company, which owns the three Saks 5th Ave stores on the Avenue.

“They’re very much aware of the culture on Greenwich Avenue – of the complications and challenges that patrons in the community face with parking and that retailers face with parking,” she said, adding that many of the company’s locations across the country have food and lounge components attached to retail stores.

Kaufman said her clients have a longstanding comfort level with operating at a high quality level, and they envision an upscale café.

“I think there is a commitment to excellence you can expect from this operator based on their experience and commitment to this community,” Kaufman added.

The first floor would retain its entrance hall. To the right of the entrance hall would be the restaurant. There would be various types of seating including traditional seating and breakout rooms to create more intimate dining spaces.

“We have a very excited prospective tenant who has the ability to open this within 6-8 weeks of obtaining a building permit,” Kaufman said. “They are ready to hit go from when we have the blessing from you.”

Second Floor

The second floor lounge would serve as an accessory use for the cafe on the first floor.

Patrons would have access to power outlets, wifi and breakout spaces for private meetings.

Commissioners discussed what use category the second floor use would fall under. Is it an office? Is it a restaurant?

While there are no parking requirements for first floor restaurants on Greenwich Ave, there are parking requirements for second floor uses.

The commission recalled that last year they discussed easing up the permitted uses on second floors on Greenwich Ave.

In addition to restaurants and retail stores, permissible ground floor uses include dry cleaners, movie theaters, grocery stores and package stores, but there are none.

Ground floor uses have not been required to provide parking since the 1960s, though the building does have 8 parking spaces for employees.

Currently restaurants are not permitted on second floors. (Ginger Man, Douro and the space formerly home to Back 40 Kitchen are all grandfathered).

There was discussion about working a text amendment to allow the second floor lounge where people can eat so that it wouldn’t set a precedent for future. The commissioners said they did not want to see a fast food restaurant in future.

“Streetworks have designed these spaces to be a modern day telephone booth,” Kaufman said. “This is a model that exists in many places and many cities. It’s very progressive and very exciting. It creates a community environment and is experiential.”

She said the idea was to keep people on the Avenue longer.

“It provides an indoor community gathering space. There are many opportunities to walk up and down, but sometimes you need to rest. Sometimes you have multiple things to achieve in a day on the Avenue and you need to stop and have a quiet conversation and then continue on. And that’s a great thing for the Avenue especially in these retail conditions.”

“Flexible work space is the way of the future. We’ve seen that in many cities and in and around communities like Stamford,” Kaufman said. “It lends itself to a less automobile reliant community.”

“Could I and my fellow street urchin friends stop by for several hours of conversation?” asked commissioner Peter Lowe.

Kaufman said there was an expectation of a point of sale on the first floor.

P&Z chair Margarita Alban said a comparable location would be Aux Delices in Riverside where patrons can take their food upstairs.

Director of P&Z Katie DeLuca said the original intent of the regulation that prohibits a restaurant on a second floor was to prevent having a restaurant on the first floor and a second restaurant on the second floor, and to prevent the Avenue from becoming monopolized by restaurants.

“Is that reg still appropriate today, and should we keep it?” asked Ms Alban. “I’m open to removing it.”

“I don’t really see it as an extension of the restaurant, but more like an office. Like Greenwich Library,” DeLuca suggested. “That’s a place where people can rent rooms to have meetings.”

Ms DeLuca suggested consulting the town’s building official Bill Marr.

“We need to chew on this a little bit,” Alban said.

Mr. Yeskey said he wondered how the tenant could find the business profitable. “Whoever the tenant is I hope he is getting a great rent deal. If you look at the rent generations, there are a lot of public non-rent producing areas.”

Basement Transportation Center

Kaufman suggested the proposal for the basement transportation center might fall under the category Personal Services Use, which is permitted on Greenwich Avenue.

“This started out as a simple bike storage option,” Kaufman said. “We’re really excited about this because we know there is great interest in the community for biking. The basement level is proposed with amenities that will serve the restaurant customers upstairs, and can also serve those who are working in and around the downtown.”

Kaufman said the service was aimed at reducing reliance cars in and around Greenwich Avenue. It includes secure storage for bikes.

The space will feature a secure storage locker area, as well as space for e-bikes, e-skateboards, and scooters, bathrooms and shower stalls; nine pieces of equipment and an open mat area for stretching.

“If you were storing your bike, an amenity you would be privy to is a shower,” she said. “So if you bike several miles, and you want to spend the rest of the day at work, there is a quick place to shower and turn around, and that is only available to you if you are storing your bike here.”

The basement will feature personal wellness equipment but patrons will not be asked to purchase memberships.

“Any space within this building is available to the public,” Kaufman explained. “As a personal services establishment use, one would have to engage in a point of sale by storing their bicycle to be able to use this equipment. If you were a patron of the restaurant and wanted to use these facilities, you could use the equipment as well. It’s not open to the public like a free gym, and it will be monitored based on reservations for bike storage.”

Ms Alban said the applicant could seek a seasonal permit for outdoor dining in future.

During public comment Mark Pruner said he was enthusiastic about the creative use of the building.

“Clearly the world of retail is changing because of the online world. Restaurants are changing because of the pandemic,” he said. “It’s the best thing we can do – to give a greater variety of dining options.”

Ms Alban suggested the applicant consider featuring a pop up shop on the ground floor and include in the proposal a “hybrid” to include retail so they wouldn’t have to return with a change of use if they decided to add retail.

The pre application was left open and the applicant will work with staff to draft a text amendment.

See also:

Vacant Ralph Lauren Building to be Reimagined as Restaurant, Lounge & Transportation Center for People Who Bike, Scoot, Skate or Run

Feb 12, 2021