At the Jan 20 P&Z meeting, a solution or compromise grew elusive after a long discussion about a proposed 247 seat Greek restaurant, Kyma, at Lewis Street and Liberty Way.
Currently Sophia’s operates a costume and gift shop at the property.
The other part of the property to be repurposed is the vacant, legally-nonconforming New York Sports Club. (It is non conforming because health clubs are not allowed on the first floor of a building.)
Around the corner at 8-10 Lewis Street, also part of the properties, are Gut Reaction (racquet stringing) and Home Boutique of Greenwich. Both will remain.
In addition to the large restaurant, the applicant proposes two additional businesses on the property: a bakery and market with 12 seats fronting on Liberty Way, for a total of three separate businesses.
While the commission did acknowledge it would be exciting to see the empty sports club repurposed and they liked the idea of the trio of businesses for a variety of uses, the sheer size of the restaurant and the parking it would command became an issue.
The property is exempt from parking requirements. Otherwise the applicant would be required to provide 169 parking spaces for 247 seats.
Haslun said because the building owner gave up part of his property in exchange for being exempt from parking requirements back in the 1960s, it was unfair that other restaurants that are not between the front and rear building lines also don’t have a parking requirement.
Parking in the Greenwich Avenue area is precious and residents have complained for decades that it’s difficult to find a parking space.
The situation came up in a separate application earlier in the Jan 20 P&Z meeting when DPW presented a pre application for two intersection improvements that would have removed 43 spots from the Avenue (some new spots would be added adjacent to the Ave for a net loss of 29 parking spots.)
Owner of Le Penguin, a stone’s throw away from the proposed Kyma restaurant, said his patrons run late because they have to drive around the block multiple times before finding a spot.
This week, just hours before the First Selectman unveiled his proposed 2023 budget to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, DPW announced they would, for now, pursue only the Havemeyer/Arch Street intersection project, which results in a net gain of 2 spots.
Another recent proposal that relies on available parking in municipal lots, including the one at Lewis Street, is for a six-story, 60-unit building with a total of 96 bedrooms at the back of the Bank of America property at 240 Greenwich Avenue.
That application is being submitted under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing statute. The proposal is for only 68 parking spaces plus three ADA spaces. If not for 8-30g, the required parking would be 172 spaces.
Back to the Kyma restaurant application.
The applicant’s attorney Chip Haslun explained the properties were exempt from parking requirements because of an agreement stemming back to the 1960s.
Back then, in exchange for giving up part of their properties to the town for the sake of creating municipal parking lots, the buildings were exempted from parking requirements.
But can the municipal lots absorb parking for a 247 seat restaurant?
Mr. Haslun started the presentation by saying he was stunned that during the previous day’s briefing the commission seeming to have changed their tune.
“I have to say we were all a little surprised with the briefing session yesterday, and the tenor of it,” he said.
He noted that a year earlier he first brought the application to P&Z, it was prior to a text amendment to allow a second floor restaurant use, under certain conditions.
After that happened, he said he thought the application had been favorably received in October, and the “minor issues” that remained were “not insurmountable.”
“My sense at the end of that meeting was you were about to close this,” he said.
Haslun said that public comments about traffic and parking led to a request from the commission for a traffic analysis, which his client did, indicating there was “not tremendous impact.”
“We were thrilled at the idea of redoing this building and having Liberty Way get a face lift, and have a new vibrant spot there,” Commission chair Margarita Alban acknowledged.
But, she said, “As we learned more, we became concerned about your client, Kyma, and we became aware that at its other locations, it is primarily an event space.”
Alban said there was concern about trips generated and impact on Greenwich Avenue commerce.
“If you are coming in here with a huge traffic generator, and given the development the town is facing, we’re risking the Avenue businesses,” Alban said, adding that earlier in the meeting, proposed intersection improvements presented by DPW had generated “enormous concern from the retailers.”
Haslun said the restaurant would not be an event space, though the other Kyma locations do advertise event space.
Besides, he said, restaurants like Ginger Man on the Avenue advertise event spaces.
“But they’re little places,” Alban said.
Haslun said his client was willing to limit special events: From Monday to Friday events would be limited to the southerly, private dining room, which has 74 seats.
He said there was no parking demand on Sundays, so Kyma would like to use the entire restaurant for private events on Sundays.
“That hopefully would assuage the concerns of the commission that this is not going to be used for weddings, bar mitzvahs and huge birthday parties on a regular basis,” he added.
Ms Alban questioned traffic consultant Bernard Adler’s study. She noted Adler acknowledged retail stores close at 6:00pm, but neglected to note that restaurant demand increases at night.
She said she didn’t know what demand was like on Sundays for brunch and lunch.
During public comment, Anshu Vidyarthi, owner of LePenguin on Lewis Street since 2013, said he’d watched more and more restaurants open in the area of Greenwich Avenue, and was concerned abut the impact on Lewis Street.
“If anyone thinks for one minute there is any kind of drop off from a Monday to Sunday, they’re completely mistaken. I see this every day.”
“Sunday brunches, Sunday on the street, people looking for parking, people backing out of the dry cleaners, people trying to find a place while they run into the bakery for a coffee, people calling our restaurant repeatedly that cannot find a parking space after they have circled four times around each parking lot,” Vidyarthi said.
“If I tell you how much business we lose from people who can’t find parking, it would be an understatement. It happens with regularity. It’s incredibly dangerous on Lewis Street.”
“It will be a traffic jam you haven’t imagined,” he added, noting that at night there isn’t a drop off in parking until 8:30 or 9:00pm.
“I’m trying to get a feel for the trip generation and what’s going on at night,” Alban said. “You think this is unfair, Mr. Haslun, but we had asked specifically what happens to the demand for parking and Mr. Adler said it all gets better because you get 30 more spaces at 6:00pm. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true.”
Haslun said Ginger Man has 4,000 sq ft and 150 seats. His client seeks 247 seats for 9,370 sq ft.
He said it wasn’t fair that restaurants that weren’t between the front and rear building lines don’t have a parking requirement rely on the municipal lots on a first-come first served basis.
“My passion here is to protect Greenwich Avenue and protect the vitality of the businesses on the Avenue,” Alban repeated.
“You can say it’s not an event space, but you’re already beginning to lay out – wait a minute, it’s an event space on Monday and a partial event space every other day, and by the way, if you’re successful restaurant it’s going to be a mega drain on all of Greenwich,” said commissioner Dennis Yeskey.
“This is a little like telling people in Greenwich Harbor that everybody that has a boat has a right to be in the harbor, and then you glide in with an ocean liner,” Yeskey said, adding that there were 180 parking spaces between Lewis and Elm. “This restaurant, if it operates at capacity – not as an event (venue) – you’d take up that entire area back there.”
“This particular area is very difficult to get a space, and we have a lot of vacancies right now,” he added.
Yeskey noted that during testimony earlier in the meeting for the DPW intersection improvements, a property owner referred to “parking rage.”
“We just had a bunch of owners down (Greenwich Ave) going crazy over eliminating 14 or 28, or whatever the number adds up… This consumption of parking at this site would be much more massive,” Yeskey added.
Haslun suggested a compromise. He said his client was willing to have seating limited to 150 at lunch, to 200 on Saturdays, and to 250 on Sundays.
“I’m having a real hard time believing that this is not being designed as a specific event space,” commissioner Nick Macri said. “At 247 seats, we’re way above what most people consider a large restaurant.”
Talk then focused on whether the restaurant was proposed with a single kitchen.
Mr. Haslun said the regulation did not specify the kitchen had to be on a certain floor, but that most of the cooking would be on one floor, and dishwashing and prep would be on a separate floor, which is what is done at many restaurants on Greenwich Ave. The question of whether there is a single kitchen was complicated by the change in grade on the property. In essence, the property has two ground floors.
Ms Alban suggested having just one big kitchen on the second floor.
“Then can you add something on the ground floor that is profitable,” Alban said. “Move the whole kitchen to the second floor with no kitchen on the ground floor and maybe do a small private event space downstairs.”
P&Z director Katie DeLuca disagreed. She said that failed to abide by the spirit of the new regulation. She said the regulation had been approved with the premise there would be a restaurant on a first floor and a warming kitchen on the second floor.
“I thought as long as the primary restaurant was on the first floor there would be additional seating on the second floor,” DeLuca said. “What I just heard you say is a second floor restaurant with a warming kitchen and no seats at all on the first floor, which I don’t think complies.
DeLuca also worried that the kitchen arrangement would set a new precedent.
Ms Alban repeated her concerns about impacts to Greenwich Ave. “We don’t want to kill the golden goose,” she said.
Architect Rudy Ridberg said using the space for retail would not work.
“You’ll never find anybody to take this large a space in this market now,” he said.
Commissioner Arnold Welles said he did not support the limited event hosting conditions mentioned by Mr. Haslun.
“The basic problem is that the number of seats is excessive,” he said. “If we reduce the number of seats to a reasonable level – I’d throw out 130 to 150 – and that’s it. Anything more than that will kill the other wonderful great restaurants in the area and the retail stores.”
The commission noted that neighbors had written letters opposing the restaurant. The file includes a letter from Dan Puffer, owner of Black Forest Bakery.
“The number of cars ‘waiting’ for parking spots to open in the area in front of the Sports club was already backing up the entrance/exit to Lewis Street,” Puffer wrote, adding, “Our town is built on small mom and pop stores/restaurants and multi generational businesses that will not survive the influx of extra large multi purpose facilities like this.”
Also in the application file is a letter from Antoine Blech, owner of Orienta, who wrote, “We have seen numerous near accidents as well as altercations between delivery trucks/refuse trucks and local shoppers in the Liberty Way parking lot.”
Claudia Leitenberger who represents the owner of 39 Lewis Street, said they’d conducted their own traffic study in November and taken photos of the parking lot on different days and times.
“The parking lot at all various times and days is almost at full capacity,” she said. “Our tenants in our building are very concerned with this new proposed restaurant because, as it is, there is not enough parking.”
Mr. Haslun said his client agreed to convert the application to preliminary because the timeline was about to expire on the original application. They will return with a preliminary application.