About six hours into Tuesday’s P&Z meeting, the commission again discussed an application for a 247-seat restaurant, bakery and market at the corner of Lewis Street and Liberty Way where the New York Sports Club sits empty.
The size of the restaurant has been an issue for the commission and neighboring building owners and tenants who rely on access to parking in shared municipal parking lots. The commission had become concerned to learn that a sister restaurant to Kyma, located in Roslyn, NY, advertised event space for weddings on their website.
The commission worried guests arriving at the same time for a large event could create a “bottleneck.”
That said, attorney for the applicant Chip Haslun said the Roslyn Kyma location has a different owner.
Further, since the previous meeting, proposed seating for the entire restaurant has been reduced to 225 from 247, and Monday to Saturday lunch seating would be limited to 125; Sunday brunch and special events would be limited to 225.
The applicant offered not to hold wedding receptions at any time.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the commission continued to be concerned the applicant’s traffic study underestimated trip generation.
“Your client wants to be in Greenwich because it’s a good place to do business,” she said. “If you put pressure on this neighborhood that is so great that people don’t want to go there, he will hurt his own business opportunity. That doesn’t make sense for anybody.”
“You heard how hysterical people get over a loss of 20 spaces,” Alban added. “When NY Sports Club was open, I would go there in the morning and not be able to find a space at 10:00am.”
Mr. Haslun said both the applicant and building owner felt they were being treated inequitably.
They said other nearby restaurants held events despite being similarly exempt from parking requirements.
“You didn’t put the rest of the people on the elevator on a diet, but when the last person gets in and the elevator goes crashing down to the basement because too many people are on board…” Alban said.
Haslun said the 14,000 sq ft building at 265 Greenwich Ave, now home to SaksWorks, which like the proposed Kyma site is also between the front and rear building lines and was likewise exempt from parking requirements, received a zoning permit straight from pre application.
“They now have on their website that you can have your wedding there if you want,” Haslun said. “They have a thriving restaurant there, which you never saw. It was all (approved) by zoning permit.”
He added that the only reason Kyma had to appear before the commission for site plan approval was because of the proposed change from non conforming use to conforming use.
Otherwise, he said, he could get a zoning permit the next day from the town zoning enforcement officer.
“The only reason why I can’t get the zoning permit from the ZEO tomorrow for this project is that fact that we’re going from a non conforming use, to a conforming use, which is the restaurant market and bakery. Whereas Ralph Lauren went from conforming Use Group 1 to to Conforming Use Group 1.”
“This is way beyond a pure zoning discussion,” Alban said.
“We’re not trying to punish you,” Alban said. “We’re trying to do something that makes sense for your viability, as well as for the town.”
“I think they feel they are being singled out because they are the maybe the last person on the elevator,” Haslun said. “It’s unfair to single them out.”
Alban said the Town’s regulations were designed to achieve the “highest and best use.”
She said the regulations talked about “lessening congestion in the streets,” “preventing the overcrowding of land,” and “conserving the value of buildings and encouraging the most appropriate use of land.”
“I think you’re seeing catastrophe where there is not really any,” Haslun said, adding his client would be willing not to host bar mitzvahs, confirmations, or weddings on weekdays.
For comparison sake, he said Ginger Man had 150 seats in 4,000 sq ft.
“We’re proposing 225 seats in 12,000 sq ft,” he said.
“It’s the special events that will drive the bottleneck,” said commissioner Dennis Yeskey. “If you want 225 special event people at one time, that doesn’t work for us.”
“How about Sunday?” Haslun asked.
“If you have a special event at 5:30 at dinner, you’re going to cause a massive traffic jam at the same time as Ginger Man and everybody else up there is having dinner plans. It’s the special event concentration that will cause traffic and parking,” Yeskey said.
The commission asked for suggestions to decrease the possibility that a lot of people would show up for an event at the same time, and for ideas about how to spread out the trips generated.
Yeskey said he liked the idea of action moving up Greenwich Avenue. But, he said, “We just don’t want that tidal wave.”
“I kind of like having a vibrant restaurant as long as it doesn’t overwhelm the other shops and destroy what we have going on the Avenue,” he added. “There’s definitely room for more restaurants at the top of the Avenue.”
It was suggested that part of the restaurant be set aside for tapas to help stagger guests.
Commissioner Arnold Welles suggested making part of the upper level an art gallery.
“You’re being driven by the size of the property as opposed to maybe the business opportunity,” Mr. Welles said.
Jonathan Martin, attorney representing Sutton Properties, owners of the buildings that are home to Orienta and Le Penguin, said neighboring businesses objected to the application.
He said neighboring businesses were afraid the ‘delicate harmony’ of Greenwich Ave and the businesses would be upset.
“As a collective group, the neighboring businesses are united in opposition to such a massive increase and intensity of use,” Martin said. “They’re scared for their livelihood and that’s why I’m here.”
Claudia Lightenberger representing the landlord across the street at 39 Lewis Street, said even though the applicant was lowering seat count during the week, they were still concerned about tenants and neighboring businesses who rely on the public parking.
She said with the assumption that a dinner time seating capacity of 225 wouldn’t overlap with retail patrons and with employee parking for area establishments, she asked how seating capacity would be enforced.
“That’s always a challenge,” Alban said.
Haslun said that for years, a previous tenant at 55 Lewis Street, where Orienta operates today, had added seats despite being limited to 12 as a retail food establishment. Now, he said, “Le Penguin has nice outdoor dining which seems very packed and overflows over the sidewalk.”
“I understand why Mr. Sutton would be concerned about how much parking there is,” Haslun said. “He is not between the front and rear building lines.”
Despite nearly an hour of discussion, the commission failed to come up with a list of conditions to mitigate concerns about traffic generation at the proposed restaurant, and instead decided to continue the discussion at a later date.