Cafe Society plan derailed for Southport RR depot
Updated 3:57 pm, Friday, August 31, 2012
"It's dead as far as I'm concerned. We gave him plenty of time," said Ronald Pine, a member of the town's Parking Authority, during the authority's Thursday night meeting in Sullivan-Independence Hall.
Trudi Durrell, a Parking Authority member, agreed. "I think we're done," she said. "I think we need to go back to square one and open it up again. People need to get invited to come."
The authority has the power to sublease space in the eastbound and westbound Southport Railroad Station terminals, subject to approval from the state Department of Transportation, which owns the buildings and leases them to the authority. Cafe Society was proposed to occupy the westbound terminal, which was rebuilt after a fire several years ago, at a monthly cost of $1,400.
Josh Fried of Fairfield, who wanted to open Cafe Society, and his lawyer, James Walsh, did not attend Thursday night's meeting, and Parking Authority members said Fried and Walsh had received two extensions to respond to a letter from the DOT saying it could not approve a lease to Cafe Society because of a lack of support from local historic preservationists and residents who live near the train station.
But the DOT's May 17 letter didn't totally close the door to Cafe Society, saying it could not approve a lease "at this time." The authority granted the first 30-day extension on June 28, and Walsh and Fried were supposed to respond to the DOT's letter by July 16, a week before the authority's July meeting. But the authority didn't meet in July, so Walsh and Fried received another 30-day extension by default.
"I think we were very fair," Durrell said. "I don't think we should give him another extension."
Fried said about six months ago that Cafe Society would transition from a coffee shop in the morning to a restaurant in the afternoon and that he planned to obtain a liquor permit for his eatery.
More than a dozen neighbors who live near the Southport Railroad Station came to Thursday night's meeting to find out the status of Cafe Society and weren't disappointed to hear Parking Authority members say plans to lease the westbound terminal are starting over.
Meyer, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 1, said Vickerelli and Revello have plans to operate a cart where coffee, doughnuts and newspapers would be sold in the mornings to train commuters. She said the cart would be inside the train station terminal and not require any renovations to the building. "It would not structurally change anything to the outside of the building or inside the building. They were very interested in [leasing the space] and the neighborhood was open to that," Meyer said.
Meyer said neighbors wanted to help the Parking Authority lease the space to "something appropriate." Stephen Stout of Spruce Street said, "It's just a logical way to go about it."
Cindy Placko, the Parking Authority's director, said she had letters on file from people interested in leasing the space.
Neighbors, however, remained adamant that the terminal should not be leased to a restaurant or bar.
The Rev. Nicholas Porter, pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church, said the church leases parking spaces to the Parking Authority nearby the Southport Railroad Station and that if a bar or restaurant were to occupy the westbound terminal and try to use those parking spaces on the weekends, it could create legal problems. "A bar or a restaurant of any type, if they use south-side parking on Saturday or Sunday without reaching an agreement with us, it's going to run into potential legal trouble with us," he said.
As neighbors walked out of the second-floor conference room, Meyer said she was pleased with the authority's decision. "We do not want a bar in the neighborhood, and we're happy with the outcome," she said.
Perhaps the youngest opponent to an alcohol-serving establishment in the railroad station's westbound terminal was 12-year-old Louisa McGrath of Spruce Street. "I don't think that it is safe for a bar to be right around the corner from my house," she said.
Durrell said the Parking Authority may receive a letter from Walsh saying that the authority "missed a step or owe them this or that," and Stout replied, "If that happens, we want to be here when that happens."