At two recent P&Z meetings – May 24 and June 21 – the commission has given feedback to an applicant seeking to open a Kyma, a Greek restaurant with about 225 seats in the empty spaces formerly occupied by New York Sports Club and Sophia’s Costumes.
The restaurant entrance would be on Lewis Street.
The proposal also includes both a market and a bakery facing Liberty Way.
The commission has been concerned the restaurant would monopolize limited parking resources. The biggest restaurant in the vicinity has 130 seats.
Also the commission worry that with events, guests will arrive and look for parking at the same time.
The commission had some frustration with lack of progress, though Mr. Haslun noted the applicant had decreased their requested seating numbers.
“We agreed no weddings,” he added. “But we feel special events are important to every restaurant and we know of no other restaurant with restrictions on events.”
The commission asked the applicant to propose a way to manage their parking, perhaps with valet parking for events.
Mr. Haslun said he didn’t think that was fair, given that neither Orienta nor LePengin were required to provide parking.
“We’re taking a non conforming situation and making it conforming,” he said, adding that the top of the Avenue did not have the intensity of parking demand that the lower part has.
Pressed again about the possibility of leasing parking spaces in a private lot, Haslun said, “We looked at other leasing spaces…we beat the bushes…. We didn’t have any success, but there is public parking that’s shared with everyone who agreed to that deal in the 1960s,” he said.
Haslun noted that in the 1960s, property owners gave land to the town to create municipal lots in exchange for an exemption from parking requirements for retail or restaurant use if the building or buildings do not exceed 15,000 sq. ft.
Anshu Vidyarthi, owner of Le Penguin, said his patrons have difficulty finding parking. He asked if the new restaurant could be required to offer valet parking.
“I wanted to be clear on that, that municipal lots cannot be used for valet parking,” he said.
The commission asked the applicant if they might propose a way to “start slowly.”
“Would they consider a phase in?” commission chair Ms Alban asked.
Mr. Haslun resisted, explaining that his client anticipated great expense to fit out the restaurant.
“It could work for something like a pop-up linen store because there’s no financial commitment. But there is a huge commitment in this case, and a long term lease both the landlord and tenant want. It just doesn’t really work.”
“We want you to be successful, but not if you’re going to bring down the Avenue,” Alban said, quoting Yogi Berra who once said of a popular restaurant, ‘Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.’
The applicant’s traffic consultant told the commission that restaurant employees don’t have cars.
“That’s not necessarily true on the Avenue,” Alban said. “We walked down the Avenue and talked to people and wait staff who said they were parked in front of the restaurant because they might have to do an errand. I spent time talking to (people who work at) restaurants.”
At the end of the May meeting, Mr. Haslun said, “We’ll go back to the drawing board and get creative and see what we can do.”
At the June 21 meeting, Mr. Haslun said the applicant had arranged to lease 25 parking spaces at 67 Mason Street (a brick office building next to Chabad at 75 Mason St) to use for a valet parking during events.
He reminded the commission his client had already agreed to reduce seating.
“We did start with a 300 seat restaurant,” he said. “We’ve consistently come down with our numbers.”
Haslun said the zoning enforcement officer had changed his original assessment about what part of the building was the first floor.
“The zoning enforcement officer has modified his opinion to say that Lewis Street is the first floor and Liberty Way is the basement floor. That has rendered all these proposed uses as conforming,” Haslun said. “That’s the good news, and the market and bakery can be located down at the lower level and restaurant is conforming as it’s now on the first floor.”
As for the proposed 25 valet spots, Alban said, “The commission is not clear that would address the deficiency you would create on Greenwich Ave.”
Haslun said parking demand dissipates late in the day.
The chair pushed back. “Anecdotal evidence of a night you went out to dinner when rain was forecast is not sufficient that ‘parking seems to dissipate.'”
Also, she said references to a 2017 parking study of the Greenwich Ave area were outdated, given the addition of outdoor dining created by enclosing parking spaces with jersey barriers.
“We need real studies and real data,” she added.
Mr. Yeskey said the 25 valet spots were a good start, but urged the applicant to find a way to start slowly, especially on weekends.
“The soft opening would solve a lot of our concerns,” he said. “You’ve got to do something about employee parking. It’s a huge problem on the Avenue. Your wait staff is large, and will drive right up to the restaurant early. I see it all the time.”
As for the soft opening, Haslun said a long term lease was involved, and the restaurant renovation would be expensive.
P&Z director Katie DeLuca said, “The alternative for the property owner is not a restaurant. It’s retail or something along those lines.”
“We’re between rock and a hard place,” Alban said. “We’re trying to help, but we have this other responsibility which is impact (on the downtown area).”
At the end of the discussion, the applicant agreed to file a request for an extension.
See also: P&Z Watch: Mega 247 Seat Greek Restaurant Likened to an Ocean Liner in Greenwich Harbor Jan 26, 2022