Mike Geller of Mike’s Organic appeared before the P&Z commission on Tuesday seeking approval for extra picnic tables.
Geller, who operates Mike’s Organic, a retail market, out of Stamford, plans to relocate that business to 600 East Putnam Ave in Cos Cob, a space that has been an eyesore for years. The building was previously home to Patio.com. It was recently gutted and work is under way on the roof.
The P&Z commission responded quite favorably to Geller’s extensive plans to beautify the site, including with 75 trees, an orchard and gardens.
The question boiled down to regulations about use and corresponding seating.
“Under our regulations you are a retail site,” explained P&Z chair Margarita Alban, noting that that could mean three picnic tables, each seating four people. “That limits you to having 12 dining seats on your property in total, unless you want to become a restaurant.”
She noted the property was once home to the International House of Pancakes.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said the options were to operate under Retail Food Use or Restaurant Use, and that there was nothing in between that would allow for the additional seating.
Retail food establishments include delis, Starbucks, and pizza parlors.
“The idea is it’s quick, it’s prepared foods, and you’re not placing and order waiting for something to come out. It’s nice and quick, it’s a high turnover type of thing,” she said. “Versus a restaurant you are served at a table and have a different parking standard for those two things.”
“What we’re building is something for the town Greenwich,” Geller said. “We’re planting 75 trees and a garden in a parking lot. And the idea is to bring the community together around food.”
Geller said an important aspect of his business is educating people about food.
“It’s very important for my business for people to be able to sit down outside and grab a bite or talk to their friends,” he added.
Ms Alban said the commission was very excited about Geller’s plans, especially the trees.
She noted the main requirements for becoming a restaurant were to meet a higher parking requirement and health code.
“You are probably not going to have a problem with that,” she said.
Ms DeLuca said an alternate solution would be to apply for special event permits prior to each event.
“It might mean he does less landscaping, but that would give him flexibility,” Alban said of the possibility of becoming a restaurant.
The site is expansive and has 46 parking spots.
To meet the definition of restaurant, there must be a kitchen, which could mean a food truck, seating for more than 12 patrons, and serving unpackaged food. There are also requirements for food storage areas and a offering a separate place for employees to wash hands.
Geller said those were already in the plans.
Alban suggested Mr. Geller follow up with the Health Department.
“As long as you comply with the zoning regulations, we’ll leave you alone,” Alban said.
Mr. Geller said he would pursue either the special event permit option or becoming a restaurant.