Downtown rooftop patio plan falls short with ZBA
A proposal to open a rooftop patio for a restaurant planned at the former site of a downtown coffee house fell short with the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The variance requested from the ZBA to allow the second-floor patio at the building that once housed Las Vetas Lounge, corner of Post Road and Sanford Street, was tripped up primarily by parking regulations.
The variance, which at Thursday's ZBA meeting won support by 3-2 vote -- instead of the needed 4-1 supermajority -- would have waived the requirement for 10 additional parking spaces to accommodate the patio proposed by building owner John Karageorge.
Board member James Baldwin said he was concerned the patio could be used one day as a bar area with no tables, attracting more patrons than restaurant use.
"It could be used for that purpose and then there would be more strain on parking," he said before the board voted on the application.
Board member Duncan Keith said he is concerned that the already-limited availability of parking spaces in downtown Fairfield may diminish further as more people come downtown to shop and eat when the economy improves.
"My basic argument is I do see parking as an issue, especially in this part of town, and I only see it getting worse," he said.
ZBA Chairman Kevin Coyne spoke in favor of granting the variance for the project, saying there is plenty of parking downtown.
"This would be new and exciting," he said of the proposal.
Prior to the vote, Jim Walsh, the lawyer representing Karageorge, said the owner wants to open the rooftop patio to attract a "high-quality" restaurant to the venue, adding that several restaurateurs have expressed interest in the site with a patio. He also said the space's lack of outdoor dining would put its tenant at a competitive disadvantage to other downtown eateries.
Walsh also handed over a petition signed by almost 30 downtown businesses -- including 10 restaurants -- in support of the patio proposal.
"Despite this potential restaurant being a competitor with them, none of those individuals had a problem," he said.
The requested variance, however, was opposed by E&F Associates, the owner of a neighboring commercial property at 1474 Post Road.
"The rules are the rules and we have to play by the rules," said Joel Green, the lawyer for E&F Associates.
After Las Vetas vacated the spot in October 2009, Karageorge received town approval to change the use from retail to restaurant with the expectation that William Auer and Susan Dederick, owners of Centro Ristorante & Bar, would open an all-natural eatery there. After that plan fell through, Karageorge continued with a renovation that included installing a basement, new electrical wiring and gas lines, and making the space handicapped accessible.
The upgrade also includes building an addition in a patio area between the former Las Vetas site and an adjoining space, also owned by Karageorge and occupied by Eliza B. shoe store.