P&Z Watch: “Baggage” from Previous Steakhouse Is Backdrop for Townhouse Outdoor Dining Application

At the March 30th Planning & Zoning meeting, Townhouse Restaurant went before the commission seeking a final site plan for a seasonal outdoor dining.

The restaurant, located at 35 Church Street, is in the CGBR and CGIO Zones. It has 150 seats in the restaurant, 18 bar seats, plus a 104-person banquet space on the second floor.

Dana Cifone and Chef Stephen Lewandowski testified before the commission, saying they had already been granted a temporary permit for outdoor dining during the pandemic, and outdoor dining would be extended for a year – they hoped to continue to offer seasonal outdoor dining indefinitely.

Deputy Planner Patrick LaRow said the property had a long history with the commission over issues with a prior restaurant regarding hours of operation, traffic, parking and noise.

He said there was a prohibition that the Church Street patio not be in use, and that windows and doors be closed other than for use as an entrance, “not for ambiance.”

Also, there are specific measures in the decision about unloading and parking.

Asked about the safety of having outdoor seating in the driveway in the event of an emergency, Ms Cifone traffic would be directed to two other egresses.

LaRow said the outdoor seating would not increase in overall seating, but rather the applicants would move seats from indoors to outdoors.

“Probably the applicant didn’t realize how voluminous the restrictions are on the property,” he added. “I think what the commission needs to know is what conditions would need to be modified to accomplish what the applicant is doing.”

The history of concerns stems back to a time when the restaurant operated as Luca’s and then as Gabriele’s.

“The problem was always the complaints from the surrounding neighborhood,” P&Z chair Alban said. “The conditions were imposed by the commission were to protect the neighborhood at that time.

Alban said she, DeLuca, LaRow and commissioner Peter Levy had all been part of P&Z at the time.

“We had roomfuls of people upset about the line of cars,” Alban said. “They’re already raising the question of your hours.”

Alban suggested postponing the application, and have the applicant return part way through summer.

She said at that point if there were no complaints or concerns from the neighborhood, the commission might be more inclined to lift the conditions.

“The whole root of this was people were so mad at the restaurant,” Alban recalled, adding that currently they had received only one letter from a neighbor.

Commissioner Nick Macri said the conditions, which were issued in 2012, were recent in terms of P&Z history, and that he recalled the application had been contentious.

“It would seem to me, the conditions were put on this for a particular reason,” he said, adding. “I would say if we let the cat out of the bag, it will be difficult to get it back in.”

Chef Lewandowski reminded the commission the restaurant was an entirely new business.

Indeed, the building has undergone a full transformation, and has no resemblance to its predecessor.

“We have nothing to do with Gabriele’s. There’s not one person in the building who worked for Gabriel’s. We are owners of this space and we’re both well trained throughout the east coast with running businesses.”

“It’s not our intention to have upset neighbors,” he continued, adding that one of the restaurant investors lives across the street.

Alban cited a letter from Francine Gingras, a board member of the Town & Country condos at 20 Church Street.

Gingras asked the commission impose a hard stop on outdoor seating at 11:00pm.

“If patrons are still there (after 11:00pm), and they usually are on weekends as proven by last year, they must be asked to go inside the restaurant to continue to drink and eat,” she said. “Windows should also be closed to minimize the noise level outside.”

Also, Gingras added, “Patrons should be encouraged not to hang out in front of the restaurant after 11:00pm.”

Lewandowski wondered why there had been any complaint considering the restaurant had only been open for 7 weeks prior to the March 16 pandemic shut down, noting that when they reopened with outside patio dining they were forced to close at 9:30pm.

“I’m not sure how this person said it was loud last year because it was closed,” he said.

“Now everything is going to be open and people are going to be out and vaccinated,” Alban said, suggesting the applicants return possibly in June.

“If it’s working, it’ll be a better way to move forward,” Alban said. “I don’t want to be harsh with the applicant. You end up with the baggage with the location.”

Alban said there had been “terrible issues” and “ongoing complaints” about the restaurant when it was Luca’s, and that issues were mainly with Luca’s.

“When it converted to Gabriel’s, we put all the conditions on it,” she said.

Commissioner Levy also recalled that there had been a problem with taxis and limousines negotiating the street, which is narrow.

“It sounds like you are professionals and you’re not going to let the same thing happen again,” Alban said. “But we have scars, and we promised the residents we’d put belts and suspenders on that decision letter to protect them.”

See also:

Former Gabriele’s Steakhouse Reopens as “Townhouse”

Feb 22, 2021