Food fight: Battle continues over downtown restaurant plan
Updated 5:28 pm, Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The fight over a Fairfield man's proposal to add a second story to a building in the heart of downtown and convert it into a restaurant continued Tuesday night.
John Karageorge, owner of the Post Road building that previously housed Las Vetas Lounge, wants to build the second story for office space and storage. James Walsh, Karageorge's lawyer and a Fairfield selectman, told the Town Plan and Zoning Commission that restaurateurs have balked at leasing Karageorge's building, which sits across the street from Sherman Green, because they consider it too small.
Walsh said Karageorge has resisted interest in the building from fast-food restaurants and coffee shops because they would bring "a much higher intensity of traffic in the already-bustling Fairfield Center."
Joel Z. Green, the lawyer who represents a property owner next door, again voiced opposition by his client -- E&F Associates, LLC -- to Karageorge's proposed restaurant Tuesday night. The public hearing ended about 10:30 p.m., and the commission has 65 days to vote on Karageorge's application.
Green said Fairfield Center already was congested with traffic and questioned the accuracy of architectural drawings that identified the patron floor area of the proposed restaurant at 600 square feet. Green also said Karageorge's application is "not zoning compliant" because the 1460-1462 Post Road property lacks a parking space for a retail building behind the proposed restaurant.
"On its face, as it sits before you, it is not zoning compliant ... I think you have to find the site is zoning compliant before you can issue a special permit," Green said.
But Matthew Wagner, a member of the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, questioned how the second story would lead to "an intensification of use" since it would be used for an office and storage space, and Bryan LeClerc, chairman of the commission, noted that Karageorge is not asking for a waiver to parking-space requirements.
Green said at this point no one knows who might lease the building and that TPZ members shouldn't be "seduced by the notion of a quiet, quality, high-end restaurant."
Walsh said parking "is really not a part of this application," and went on to say that Fairfield Center this summer is likely to get 200 to 300 more parking spaces for shoppers and downtown employees because of the recently opened Fairfield Metro train station off lower Black Rock Turnpike. Those 200 to 300 spaces, now used by commuters at the downtown Fairfield Railroad Station, will be turned over to the town's general use as part of a tri-party agreement among the town, state Department of Transportation and a private developer, Walsh said.
"Those spots are easily within walking distance of my client's location," Walsh said.
Walsh added that Green isn't in a position to dispute the size of the patron floor area and that it had been determined by computer models.
Assistant Town Planner James Wendt said town Zoning Department staff reviewed the patron floor area with Karageorge's architect and agreed that it is 600 square feet. "They designed it specifically for 600 square feet because that's what they got from the [Zoning Board of Appeals]," Wendt said.
Wendt also disagreed with Green's belief that Karageorge's application is not zoning compliant because of the retail building behind it. Wendt said the parking-space waiver granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals in April 2010 pertained to the proposed restaurant. "The rear retail area does not enter into the calculation," he said.
Green said part of the problem between his client and Karageorge is a lack of communication, which Walsh characterized as "bad blood" that stemmed from a disagreement over property damage. Green's client, E&F Associates, LLC, owns a two-story retail and office building at 1474 Post Road; Frank D. Raviola of Fairfield Beach Road is listed as the LLC principal on the Secretary of the State's website.
Green previously objected to Karageorge's proposal, on behalf of E&F Associates, LLC, at a public hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals in March.
Just after Tuesday's hearing started, Richard Jacobs, a TPZ member, said he feels that Walsh should not represent clients before the commission because Walsh, in his role as a town selectman, votes on the commission's budget.
Walsh, however, replied that he had recused himself from voting on the Town Plan and Zoning Commission's proposed budget.