A Fairfield man who is trying to enlarge a downtown building for a new restaurant won approval Tuesday night for a horizontal, rather than vertical, expansion.

John Karageorge, who owns a vacant one-story building at 1460-1462 Post Road, previously won approval from town zoning officials to build a second story on the building so a future restaurateur could have office and storage space. But a property owner next door filed two lawsuits over the planned second story, so Karageorge is now looking to convert retail space behind the building into space for the restaurant.

The Town Plan and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow Karageorge to change the use of a 17 Sanford St. building from retail to restaurant.

The TPZ also voted, in separate applications, to approve outdoor dining areas at Sunny Daes, an ice cream shop at 808 Post Road; Archie Moore's Bar and Restaurant at 48 Sanford St. and The Chelsea, a new restaurant at 12 Unquowa Place, where the former Greenhouse Grille and Fairfield Spot had operated.

Assistant Town Planner James Wendt said Karageorge didn't want to go forward with building a second story on the 1460-1462 Post Road building because he may lose the lawsuits filed against the project by E&F Associates LLC, which owns a retail and office building next door. Frank D. Raviola of Fairfield Beach Road is listed as the principal of E&F Associates LLC on the Secretary of the State's website, and E&F's lawsuits challenge approvals granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

The building at 17 Sanford St. is now occupied by the retail outlet of Eliza B., an Essex-based company that produces sandals and other hand-made leather goods. The company's owner, Cecil Lyons, said the company has a lease on the space with a renewal option, and he had not been aware of Karageorge's plan to reclaim the space.

TPZ members debated what would happen if they approved converting the retail space to use for a restaurant and E&F's lawsuits failed. But Wendt said a future restaurant on Karageorge's property is restricted to 600 square feet of patron floor area due to the lack of parking spaces. Karageorge, however, could seek a waiver of required parking spaces if he wanted the patron floor area to be larger than 600 square feet.

Seth Baratz, the TPZ vice chairman, said, "There's litigation on the Zoning Board of Appeals' decision and our decision, and we're being asked to give (Karageorge) a Plan B." Wendt replied, "That's correct." "The second floor's been approved and is not particularly relevant. He's proposing a different plan that keeps 600 square feet. As long as he's not expanding the patron floor area, he's OK," Wendt said. He said the 17 Sanford St. building would house a kitchen and bathrooms for the restaurant.

E&F claims in its lawsuits that Karageorge didn't have a hardship that justified the ZBA granting a setback waiver for the second story and that the TPZ didn't have valid reasons for approving the second story and that it would harm E&F's property values, impair E&F's "use and enjoyment" of its building, and impede the passage of traffic and use of available parking on E&F's property.

Meanwhile, the commission voted to approve Sunny Daes' application for several outdoor tables and seats at its 808 Post Road ice cream shop after a debate over whether the safety of customers would be jeopardized by how close the seats would be to the parking lot.

TPZ member James Kennelly said, "Kids are already out front playing on the cow," a reference to the ice cream store's plastic cow mascot.

TPZ members did decide to move the outdoor seats so they are in front of handicapped parking spaces and to have curb stops in front of an existing rail fence between the parking lot and outdoor seats.

Archie Moore's won approval from the TPZ to have 240 square feet of outdoor dining, to consist of three tables and 12 chairs, which it will set up in part of Donnelly Walk.

The Chelsea won approval to have 98 square feet of outdoor dining in part of an Unquowa Place sidewalk.

LeClerc said Unquowa Place doesn't have a lot of pedestrians and outdoor dining applications are approved on an annual basis, so if it is not working well, the TPZ could withhold approval next spring.