New restaurant OK'd, expansions nixed
Downtown restaurateurs went two for four before a town zoning board Thursday.
Molto's and Captain Pizza's bids to expand were denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the panel approved a new restaurant in space formerly occupied by the Greenhouse Grill and backed a request from Cafe Madeline that will enable it to obtain a cafe liquor permit.
Molto, which opened about three years ago in the Brick Walk shopping center, wanted to add more outdoor seats, but ZBA member Duncan Keith didn't like how much the additional seats would encroach on a wide sidewalk that runs alongside the 1215 Post Road restaurant.
"Having a wide open sidewalk like that is a real plus," Keith said to John Fallon, the lawyer representing the Kleban family, which owns the shopping center at the eastern edge of downtown.
Keith said people can walk side-by-side on the sidewalk and its width encourages window shopping and socializing.
"I think these sidewalks are a real benefit and we ought to maintain them," Keith said.
During his presentation, Fallon said Molto customers' interest in dining al fresco had driven the request for more outdoor seats.
Fallon added that outdoor dining contributed to the "energy and ambiance" of Fairfield's downtown and was "a very important seasonal amenity."
Molto now has 276 square feet of outdoor dining and wanted two additional areas totaling 135 square feet -- about a 50 percent expansion. Fallon wanted the ZBA to waive four required parking spaces for the extra seats, saying the Brick Walk Shopping Center has 652 parking spaces and the additional seats wouldn't create a parking problem.
But Keith said the sidewalk, which would be reduced in width by five feet under Molto's proposal, was a benefit to the community, while more outdoor seats would benefit the restaurant.
"I just think, on balance, it is more of a benefit to the community to have this wide sidewalk. ... I would be reluctant to give that up," Keith said.
Captain's Pizza wanted a much larger parking-space waiver from town zoning officials so the 59 Sanford St. pizzeria could expand into what is now a second-floor apartment.
David Quatrella, the lawyer representing Easton resident Gregory Kapetaneas, said Captain's needed the ZBA to waive 35 required parking spaces because the pizzeria's patron floor area, now 617 square feet, would increase to 1,879 square feet if it set up tables and chairs on the second floor.
Captain's now has 23 seats and would have 90 seats if the expansion were approved, Quatrella said.
Quatrella said Captain's wanted to be more of an upscale restaurant and planned to apply for a full-liquor permit so it could offer more than beer and wine. He gave ZBA members petitions in favor of the proposed expansion that had been signed by nine nearby business owners and the Fairfield Theatre Company.
Quatrella said Fairfield's Plan of Conservation and Development recommends that parking-space requirements for downtown restaurants be changed to match requirements for retail stores. If that happened, Captain's wouldn't need a waiver to expand into the second floor, Quatrella said. He said the ZBA previously approved parking-space waivers for many other downtown restaurants.
But Keith said Sanford Street had become congested and the number of parking spaces that Quatrella and Kapetaneas wanted waived was high. "The problem is ... there's been a real cumulative growth in the number of restaurants. You guys are asking for 35 spaces. It's a problem," Keith said.
Before the 5-0 vote to reject Captain Pizza's request, ZBA member Donald Cafero said he would have been more comfortable if Kapetaneas had gotten signatures from owners of two other restaurants on Sanford Street -- Archie Moore's and The Brasserie. Kapetaneas said he wasn't able to get in touch with the owners.
Two other restaurants fared better during Thursday's meeting.
The ZBA voted 5-0 to approve a request for a restaurant to open in a 12 Unquowa Place building that formerly housed Greenhouse Grill and, more recently, The Fairfield Spot.
James Walsh, a Fairfield selectman and the lawyer representing Chelsea Pub LLC, had asked the ZBA to waive a regulation that requires restaurants with cafe liquor permits to be at least 1,500 feet away from each other.
Principals in Chelsea Pub LLC are Kevin McHugh and Scott Beck, who have ownership interests in The Gray Goose in Fairfield's Southport neighborhood, The Spotted Horse in Westport, The Loft in Norwalk and Match in Norwalk, and Steve and Susan Calzone, who have an ownership interest in Mesa restaurant in Fairfield, according to Walsh.
The new restaurant -- as yet unnamed -- would serve meat, poultry, fish and produce. Walsh said it would operate as a restaurant, but the state requires restaurants that don't have separate dining and bar areas to have cafe liquor permits, instead of restaurant liquor permits.
"It will clearly operate, as a practical matter, as a restaurant. Because of liquor control permitting, it must be classified as a cafe, and a cafe permit is required," Walsh said.
Walsh also successfully asked the ZBA to waive the same regulation for Cafe Madeline at 1603 Post Road so Madeline Migliorini could reconfigure the restaurant's interior. Migliorini now has a restaurant liquor permit, but she wants to replace several tables with a dining counter/bar, and that will require her to get a cafe liquor permit, Walsh said.