Westville Village’s nightlife is poised to change dramatically, after the zoning board Tuesday night gave the green light for two restaurants, Delaney’s Taproom and Manjares Fine Foods, to proceed with building and expansion plans.
Both Whalley Avenue establishments won approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals — one, just barely — at the end of a two-hour meeting on Tuesday night at the Hall of Records.
The proposal to resurrect the burnt-down Delaney’s, with a 180-seat restaurant and 22 apartments above, squeaked past the board, after a dissenting member argued the developer hadn’t established why he needed to put a staircase right up to the property line
Meanwhile, the request to allow Manjares to serve liquor at night without providing any dedicated parking spots for customers sailed to board approval.
The two votes involved two different types of relief, with different burdens of proof.
Where’s The “Hardship”?
Delaney’s needed a variance, a deviation from the zoning ordinance, to extend a staircase from the exterior all the way to the sidewalk, where an 11-foot side yard is normally required. The lot where the project is envisioned sits at the corner of Whalley and Central Avenues.
An advisory report from the City Plan Commission said the issue could go either way. The report pointed out that the proposed building itself was at least five feet back from the property line and that the nearest residence was more than 40 feet away even without the side yard, making the staircase “less objectionable.” But it also noted that Delaney’s “application does not really provide an explanation” why a variance is needed. “The applicant must provide a legally justifiable basis for this variance before it could provide a positive recommendation to the board,” the report said.
During a public hearing two months ago, neighbors also argued that the variance was needed to make the building appear less bulky along Central Avenue. With more room, the architect could vary the exterior, alternating a pattern of recessed balconies and brick walls, they pointed out.
Variances for a change like that are supposed to be granted only if a property-owner can establish an “unreasonable hardship.” The difficulty, as several homeowners have found out, can’t just be financial; even a building’s age doesn’t factor in. Instead, the developer has to prove that there’s a problem with the land itself, something that differentiates it from neighbors who don’t have any issue complying with the law.
On Tuesday night, a new board member, Anne Stone, who’s been a stickler about the hardship rules since her very first vote, said she didn’t see why Delaney’s needs to set itself right against the street. If the project needs a stairwell, as the architect had argued, it could make room by cutting out one unit, rather than squeezing it all in, Stone argued.
“I have a real problem with this,” she said. “I do have a problem with the evidence that was presented on hardship: I just don’t see it. People could feel differently on it. I assume I will be the minority opinion, but I need to voice that.”
City planners started frantically shuffling their papers as Stone explained why she’d be voting against the project. Because four-fifths of the zoning board must vote to approve a variance, they fretted that one more vote against Delaney’s could have sunk the whole rebuild.
Despite Stone’s opposition, the four other board members voted in favor of granting a variance. The board also unanimously approved a special exception — a slighter deviation from the zoning rules, compared to a variance — to permit a full liquor license at the restaurant and limited on-site parking.
After the meeting, Stone explained her vote.
“I know everybody wants this thing, but I couldn’t find the legal hardship,” she said. “Basically, they put the stairway on the sidewalk, and I just thought there were plenty of places it could have gone. Maybe they would have lost a unit.” She added that variances should be “difficult to get” to make sure city streets maintain their harmony.
Leon Mularski, the architect, said he always knew getting a variance would be a “tough” challenge. But with the approval in hand, Lior Israel, the developer, said he planned to keep construction on schedule, if not “maybe speed it up a bit.”
On the special exception for Manjares, a popular coffee shop across from Edgewood Park on West Rock Avenue near Whalley, Stone voted with the group. That project unanimously won a special exception to start serving liquor at night until 11 in a new space called “Sala Manjares” (Spanish for living room), without adding any parking spots, where nine are technically required by the ordinance.
posted by: Westville Parent on April 11, 2018 8:57am
A big win for Westville and New Haven. Creating a new core to Westville Village will be a huge boost. Question: Will the new Delaney’s have outdoor seating? None is shown in the drawing. The old Delaney’s streetside seating added lots of life to the Village in warmer months.
posted by: Noteworthy on April 11, 2018 9:05am
Variance should not have been given - his hardship is that it would have cost him an apartment. Money. The design hasn’t changed - so we’re going to get an ugly, Walmart design in the Village for the same reason Israel wanted the variance. Money.
posted by: anonymous on April 11, 2018 9:50am
As long as it provides dense housing and lasts for at least 20 years or so, the ugliest building in the world would be far preferable to a vacant lot.
The only problem I have with this building is that it is not dense enough for the location, adjacent to three major bus lines. The city should have encouraged and allowed more units and fewer parking spaces.
posted by: Peace New Haven on April 11, 2018 9:58am
I am excited to see Delaney’s resurrected. Unfortunately, my little canine and I were there on the night of the fire. I have the same question: will there be an outside patio? Not only did it add life to summer evenings, it was a place that I could go with my little friend and be welcomed.
posted by: __quinnchionn__ on April 11, 2018 11:29am
That’s actually an interesting idea, and not a bad one, honestly. but I would think that closing off that part of Central permanently would make it hard for traffic that’s coming from Valley and Blake Streets to get over to the other side of Central Avenue. and Vice Versa. Although, I do like your idea of creating a small linear park and a pathway for pedestrians. It would really complement the village, I believe.
posted by: robn on April 11, 2018 11:29am
MsStone is absolutely correct and, as usual, the rest of the board is absolutely wrong. They cannot continue to illegally grant variances where a hardship does not exist. A banana republic New Haven so often is.
posted by: theNEWnewhaven on April 11, 2018 11:35am
OUTDOOR seating is important.
For the tenants, how about a rooftop so they can take in the stunning view of West Rock?
What can a community do if the developer is unwilling to work on the facade? This is a historic, quaint strip and this building rendering looks TERRIBLE.
Either way, outdoor seating for both the restaurant and the tenants, use the ROOF?!
posted by: NHVCyclist on April 11, 2018 12:04pm
Quick counterpoint to this:
“She added that variances should be “difficult to get” to make sure city streets maintain their harmony.”
I understand the logic, but the hard-nosed approach is more justified in less-dense areas, like the suburbs or parts of Amity/Northern Westville.
Most neighborhoods in New Haven are comprised almost completely of old buildings that to not conform to current zoning regulations. One board member said recently about an East Rock project - You pretty much need a variance to do anything there, since the lots are so narrow.
In those cases, the opposite applies - if someone was to tear down a typical mid/late-1800s East Rock, Newhallville, Wooster Square, etc, home and replace it with something that requires no variances, it would most likely stick out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood (if it was even possible to build anything bigger than a shed due to setbacks/side yard requirements). Absolutely not “maintaining the harmony”
posted by: opin1 on April 11, 2018 12:27pm
Great news that Delaney’s will move forward. Agree with others, it would be a shame if it the restaurant wasn’t connected to the street somehow, since the street is very vibrant, being the center of the village. Even if there isn’t much room for outdoor seating, they could incorporate garage style doors or large sliding glass doors that could be opened up in the warmer months (World of Beer in West Hartford is a great model. Or even like Bar in New Haven which doesn’t have any outdoor seating).
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 11, 2018 1:51pm
Ms. Stone obviously did not get the memo. Hardship is the legal test for a variance, but that rarely is the practice in the city. I’m happy to see the development go forward, but the decision really does not comply with the law.
posted by: BevHills730 on April 12, 2018 12:44pm
One great thing about Delaney’s outdoor seating is that it could accommodate dogs, which really gave the place the feel of a neighborhood bar. Every time I walked my dog by Delaney’s she would peek around the bushes to see if there was anyone we knew sitting outside. There aren’t many places in New Haven where parents can enjoy beer, kids can enjoy coloring, and the family dog can enjoy some shade and a water tin. There were so many small things that made Delaney’s the anchor of the village and the community. The architect would be well-served to listen to the people who made made Delaney’s such a popular spot.