When the Peruvian Machu Picchu restaurant asked for permission to add a porch, the local top cop said the Annex neighborhood is just too rough for an outside seating area.
With that approach, “the ghetto will always be the ghetto,” responded a local developer.
The police view prevailed.
The developer, Alejandro De Frutos (at right in photo), appeared at the monthly Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting on Tuesday night at the Hall of Records. He was acting as an agent for his friends Edward Angulo (center) and Jose Valdivia (left), the Peruvian cousins who run the seven-year-old Machu Picchu restaurant at the corner of Farrren Avenue and Pardee Street.
With De Frutos’ help, Angulo and Valdivia asked for a special zoning exception to add a deck to the back of their restaurant.
The zoning board voted to deny the request, as the City Plan Department had previously recommended. Board members also heard opposition to the plan from Annex Alderman Al Paolillo.
The case of the rejected deck raises the question of how businesses and the city should respond to crime in neighborhoods: By staying inside until the streets get safer? Or moving out to claim public space?
The alderman shared the written remarks of District Manager Lt. Jeff Hoffman, who wrote that a deck is inappropriate for the area since it is “one of the most criminally active and violent” in the district.
Back at Machu Picchu on Wednesday, the day after the rejection of the deck proposal, Valdivia and Angulo argued that they are being prevented from improving the neighborhood. They said they’ve never had a criminal incident at their restaurant. An expanded business would allow them to create more jobs, they argued, and a deck might decrease crime in the area.
In the opinion of one urban design advocate, the city should have granted the restaurant porch permission, at least on a trial basis. With more “eyes on the street,” outdoor seating can help reclaim a neighborhood from crime, said Anstress Farwell, head of the New Haven Urban Design League.
In an advisory report, the City Plan Department recommended that the zoning board reject the porch petition. The report cites several reasons for rejection, including noise, traffic and parking, and a mismatch with the character of the neighborhood.
De Frutos, wearing shorts and a shirt that said “Fallen Dreams” on the front, sought on Tuesday night to rebut the City Plan report.
The porch would extend off the back of the restaurant, alongside Fulton Street, De Frutos said. There would be room for four or five tables.
The Machu Picchu cousins live in the building, above the restaurant, and they will always live there, De Frutos said. They’re not concerned about the noise, he said. The porch will only be open for about four months a year, and will close at 9:30 p.m. and will not play music outside, he said.
As for parking, the restaurant has more than the required number of spaces, he said.
The question of whether a deck fits in the neighborhood is “just a matter of opinion,” De Frutos said. Some people like vanilla; others like strawberry or even banana, De Frutos said. But everybody enjoys outdoor spaces, he said.
“Hi, Al. How are you?” said BZA Chair Cathy Weber warmly, as Alderman Paolillo (pictured) walked to the microphone. “How’s your father doing?”
“He’s doing fine,” said Paolillo.
“Yeah? Tell him I said hi,” said Weber.
Paolillo began by reading a letter written by Lt. Hoffman, the Annex’s top cop. The area around the Machu Picchu restaurant is “one of the most criminally active and violent” in the district, Hoffman wrote. Adding outdoor seating to the are would only make the situation worse, he wrote. Drug dealers could take advantage of the crowd on the porch to hide from police, Hoffman wrote.
Paolillo agreed with the letter. He also said the porch would create “traffic and noise issues.”
“I’m trying hard to figure out how the community benefits,” Paolillo said. A porch would have an “adverse impact on the folks who live there.”
De Frutos responded that drugs and violence are problems everywhere in the city, unrelated to the deck. “This is a plague that runs throughout the city,” he said.
De Frutos suggested maybe the lieutenant “who wrote this lovely letter” should be “out on the street instead of writing memos.”
The porch would be in a BA zone, De Frutos said. That’s a business zone, not a residential zone, he said.
“We’re talking about four tables,” he said. “How much noise can 12 or 14 people make?”
De Frutos later acknowledged there could be five tables.
“These people are trying to put something nice there,” De Frutos said, gesturing toward the cousins.
Machu Picchu has never had any trouble with the police, De Frutos said. “They have an untouchable record for the last 10 years.”
As the voting session began, De Frutos had his head down and fingers crossed on both hands.
Without discussion, Weber asked for votes from the board. She turned to board member Victor Fasano, who said he wasn’t yet ready to vote. Board member David Streever said he was still thinking.
“You want to vote now?” Fasano asked Weber.
“You want to chit-chat a little bit? We can chit-chat,” Weber replied.
Streever noted that the board had not heard any complaints from the restaurant’s neighbors.
Fasano said he was ready to vote.
The board voted unanimously to deny the application. Board member Regina Winters recused herself.
After the vote De Frutos said the board was standing in the way of businesspeople trying to improve their restaurant. The porch would not have been denied if Machu Picchu were downtown, he said. With city officials preventing people like Angulo and Valdivia from putting up a deck, “we’ll live in the ghetto forever,” De Fruto said.
He called down the hallway after Angulo, who walked away with his head down.
The next day, De Frutos gave a tour of the area where the porch was proposed. With outrage, he pointed out the crumbling sidewalk nearby, including a stretch of bare dirt with huge weeds growing in the middle. “Check it out! I’ve got trees!” De Frutos said pointing to a large specimen.
City officials came to look at the restaurant and decided a porch would look bad, De Frutos said. “But this looks so great!” he said, pointing to the sidewalk, his voice filled with sarcasm.
The city is saying, “We forgot this neighborhood. We forgot this block,” De Frutos said.
“But this is a disgrace!” he said, again with sarcasm, indicating where the porch would have been.
De Frutos said the area does suffer from criminal activity. But a porch would have a positive impact on that problem, he said. “It could have an effect on all these punks and thugs.”
If there were more successful businesses, maybe crime would move out of the area, De Frutos said. Or the criminals might decide to get a job “instead of selling drugs,” he said.
Inside the restaurant, Valdivia said there have been no police complaints about the restaurant in the seven years he and his cousin have owned it.
He said he wants to improve the neighborhood and provide jobs for people.
“We want to make the business better, make it look nice,” Angulo said.
“We only want to work,” said Valdivia.
On Wednesday afternoon, Franklin Cuevas was munching on “spicy sweet chili” flavored Doritos behind the counter of the J.P. Deli & Grocery, diagonally across from Machu Picchu. He said he’s seen crime decrease in the area in the four years he’s run the store. Still, he said doesn’t think the porch would be a good idea. Criminals would be able to watch people on the porch, wait until they got drunk, and then mug them as they leave, Cuevas said.
“My opinion is, in that area, it’s not good,” he said.
Farwell had a different take. After taking a look at the area on Google maps, she said she thought the BZA should have approved the porch. “I would think it would be worth some sort of trial run,” she said. The board could have restricted the hours of use, she said.
Farwell acknowledged that she hasn’t been to the area at night and that it “has had some really serious issues” with crime. It’s right near the highway, making it an easy spot for suburbanites to dip into New Haven to score drugs, Farwell said.
A porch could decrease crime, because of the increase in “eyes on the street,” Farwell said. That phrase refers to a “tried and true practice about how you create safe neighborhoods,” she said. Features like porches can increase foot traffic and increase the influx of people with “legitimate reasons to be there.” With lots of potential witnesses, potential criminals don’t hang around, she said.
“Any kind of bad behavior tends to avoid places where people are occupying the street in legitimate ways,” Farwell said.
A porch can even have other benefits, like slowing down traffic, Farwell said. “People like to look at people.”
A porch can also create “ownership of a corner,” she said. People will be more likely to pick up a cell phone to call in crimes, even getting the license plates of cars that speed by.
If Machu Picchu has a clean record with the police and health departments, if the owners pay their taxes, a porch would be “very much worth a trial run,” Farwell said.
Angulo and Valdivia said they were not sure if they will try again to get permission to add a porch. They said they feel intimidated every time they have to go in front of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
posted by: Board got it right! on June 11, 2010 12:46pm
This is no place for outside eating or gathering. Way too congested with traffic and people for that. Adequate parking? Really? Did the Board give zoning relief for the parking lot that borders the residential zone? Is it properly buffered? Do cars parking along the building back over the sidewalk? Did the board approve that? Sidewalks are the owner’s responsibility - at least half, I think. Good call, B of ZA.
posted by: DEZ on June 11, 2010 12:48pm
I’m really surprised by this all around. Machu Picchu has been a great neighbor, anchoring the corner on which they sit, and creating a vibrant moment, with great food at good value to boot. The idea that they should be punished for the crimes of the neighborhood seems shortsighted at the very best. I would hate for them to move because they feel thwarted by a city board. It’s also a tough call in terms of where Fair Haven “officially” ends and the Annex begins. I look at the Angulo/Valdivia team as good Fair Haven neighbors.
posted by: robn on June 11, 2010 1:04pm
Its one thing to worry about noise from a restaurant porch affecting nearby residents (a recent issue in Westville) but the idea that the porch might encourage or increase crime is ridiculous. Farwell (channeling Jane Jacobs)is correct….eyes on the street.
posted by: pat on June 11, 2010 1:07pm
Alderman Paolillo is thoughtful and well intentioned and the input of the local police clearly played a role in his opposition to the deck and outside eating, but I agree with Anstress Farwell that the concept should have at least been tried on a temporary basis.
Anyone who has read Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities knows that more people on the street reduces crime. An outdoor eating area is worth trying.
Unfortunately the denial sounds like a punishment to some hard working people who have built a good business and are trying to grow it a little.
The denial of an opportunity is a win for the criminal element and a loss for the law-abiding some business person.
posted by: The Count on June 11, 2010 1:12pm
Yeah, we all know what “high crime rates” the Annex has. Hey, if that porch is placed out there, ya might have a “drive by” shooting or sumthin’ (heh-heh). Don’t want any innocent bystanders shot now, do we?
posted by: chewy on June 11, 2010 1:16pm
THE BZA should have taken a chance w/ limited outdoor seating here. There should be conditions: nothing left out after closing, adequate lighting, etc. Yes, the corner is cramped, but it’s easy to find and might help an actual neighborhood congeal in this area. This is exactly the kind of small business which could “cross over” and be a mainstream attraction in an ethnic neighborhood. Clean, good food, responsible owners. It’s only sin is not being on Grand Avenue. As for police objection to this and responsible use of wine/beer at Lighthouse - Do they just want everyone to stay home so it’s less people out there to “protect”?
posted by: angelo reyes on June 11, 2010 1:21pm
sorry about your loss at bza.i wouldnt give up. grand avenue had the same problem with crime,look at it now.from ferry to blachley were rocking and rolling.one component to success was to report everything.and dont sweep the dirt to the curb but illuminate it. no hanging around, no loitering no littering.
posted by: bumphus on June 11, 2010 2:19pm
I live in New Haven. About two years ago I went to Machu Picchu for an early dinner on my motorcycle and my buddy rode his scooter. While we were eating two guys tried to steel his locked scooter by putting two-by-fours through the wheels and carrying it away in broad daylight. A couple of fellow customers with window seats alerted us, we ran outside, and the two guys dropped the scooter and ran, doing a little light damage to the bike. I guess if they had had a porch we could have kept a better eye on the bikes…
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 2:36pm
I’m sorry that Angulo and Valdivia feel intimidated coming before the board: I know that’s not the way I want them to feel, and I hope no one else in the City intends for people to feel intimidated. I am personally grateful for everyone who appears each week, and am happy to see people come out who all have the best interest of their neighborhood in their minds.
Ultimately I didn’t see a hardship, which is the main reason I voted no. The location could support other uses—it does not have to be a restaurant with an open eating & drinking area in the back. Although honestly I would have appreciated more discussion on the issue by the Board—if for no other reason than so we could state for the record our rationale in voting no.
Issues like paying taxes, health department, etc, those are ultimately irrelevant. BZA is tasked with a very specific mission to consider the use and the land—we are not arbitrators of good taste, design, or moral standing. Personally I like their restaurant and them (and Mr Frutos—what a good guy!) but the case was simply not well-made that they were operating under a hardship.
Personally I like outdoor seating and think it’s good for this city. I don’t personally think it’d be a bad thing if Macchu Picchu had outdoor seating. However, what I personally enjoy and what is spelled out as being appropriate for each zone sometimes differ. In those instances, I have to accept the way the law is currently written.
If someone feels the current zoning rules are inadequate, I encourage you to propose changes and work with City Plan to get an adequate zoning ordinance, as GAVA recently did.
I think our board failed in not discussing this adequately, because it leaves the impression that we voted no due to one mention of crime. I don’t know why the other board members voted no—we’ve not discussed it—but I suspect most voted no due to the lack of hardship and the lack of a case for a hardship.
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 2:38pm
I started typing before all these comments came in: I agree with the general spirit and intent. It really is a matter of what the board is tasked to do: grant relief to entities operating under a hardship. In this case they did not make an argument for a hardship, and so it was hard to vote yes.
posted by: Uncle Egg on June 11, 2010 2:45pm
Shouldn’t the default position be to allow something like this? It seems to me that speculation that a patio “might” cause problems is a pretty thin reason to deny someone an opportunity to improve a business.
I’ve visited this restaurant a few times and would enjoy the opportunity to eat outdoors there. While I hardly count myself as an expert, my gut tells me this would inhibit criminal activity nearby rather than encourage it.
posted by: robn on June 11, 2010 3:18pm
I wasn’t focused upon the fact that this was a zoning appeal for a variance. Streever is right; the basis of the application must be a hardship and that can’t be self-imposed or financial.
I think its clear that in this case, the hardship is lack of eyes on the street (people presence) which is leading to the decline of quality of life for people in the neighborhood.
Paraphrasing the Zoning text, if “...by reason of ...unusual circumstances, the strict application of.. (zoning)... would result in ..undue hardship upon the owner of any specific property.. the commission .. shall have the power ..to relieve .. hardship provided (the relief is) in harmony with the general purpose and intent of (zoning) so that the general character of the district shall be conserved and substantial justice done.
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 3:20pm
Uncle Egg: I’ve been to this restaurant too. I like it a lot! The “default” is to follow the zoning standards—by definition, none of these cases are default. They are all seeking an exception to the rule.
When there is a hardship, then the exception is granted: when no case is made for a hardship, exceptions are not granted. That is not an explanation of New Haven’s process, but of every cities process.
posted by: how else? on June 11, 2010 3:32pm
How else could the owners present the request for an addition of a porch? They must go through the City Plan commission , then through BZA to ask for an exception, correct? Is the only way to gain approval of the BZA to prove hardship otherwise? It seems that the board would be interested in engaging in intelligent discussion to understand the intentions and possible impact of the request at hand. Since you are on the board, why didn’t you urge more discussion. From your comments, it seems that you should have.
posted by: pat on June 11, 2010 3:37pm
What hardship did the restaurants all over town have to establish to get their outdoor seating and patios?
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 4:00pm
How Else? I think you misunderstood me: they should have made a case based on a hardship Tuesday, at the BZA. I am not saying they should have done that elsewhere.
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 4:06pm
@how else: Yes, I agree there should have been more discussion: Sadly, I have no psychic powers, and as such was unable to force anyone to share their ideas. I will work on that in the future. Hopefully there is some breakthrough that will let me direct others with my mind alone.
(On a serious note, it is for the applicant to prove the hardship, and not the board! Even if we did discuss, all it would change is having a reason *on the record* for voting no, not the actual vote)
posted by: how else? on June 11, 2010 4:14pm
I understand that they should have made a case based on hardship, but my question is: “how else can a business add outdoor seating or a porch/patio without having to prove some type of hardship?” isn’t it enough for the business to express a desire to improve its appearance and street presence? must a hardship be present for any business to remodel, expand, or otherwise improve its existing location? i think not.
posted by: ROBN on June 11, 2010 4:27pm
The reason zoning laws exist is that they (theoretically) represent the collective wishes of the community and those wishes go generally along the line of “I don’t want a factory belching smoke next door to my house”. Commercial stuff in commercial zones, manufacturing stuff in manufacturing zones, residential stuff in residential zones, etc… Don’t know the exact circumstances of this restaurant but it looks like they are an allowed non-conforming use. That is something like a deli or convenience store that is granted a variance to exist because there is a tangible benefit to the community. When such an establishment seeks other variances, they, like all other businesses, have to prove a hardship.
To answer your question, the other way is to lobby your aldermen to change the law (zoning is law.)
So in applying for permission to build, is it even necessary to seek approval from the Board of Zoning appeals? It doesn’t seem that there is really a zoning issue at hand: parking is not an issue, the property is appropriate to the zone it is in, and there were no objections raised by the neighbors. I share the frustration of the owners who are trying to improve the neighborhood, but a quelched by the system. If the police really need to weigh in on zoning appeals, they are not doing a good enough job with the ‘hood.
Its unfortunate that our zoning and codes are anti-urban and variances are required to do the things that developers and individuals did for centuries to give New Haven it’s beloved character through intelligent building and urban design. Prior to the 1930s, there weren’t any governing laws that controlled development within New Haven, there were only natural laws that provided perimeters for building the city. One perimeter was lack of capital, another was the discipline of walking distance, and another was the limited availability of local building materials. By the 1930s, these natural laws were becoming increasingly irrelevant and the modernist movement in planning and architecture was going full steam ahead aided by massive access to capital and resources from around the world. This required to governments to impose new restrictions on building and developing based on man-made laws, since natural laws were easily conquered thanks to technological innovation fueled by cheap and abundant energy. Unfortunately, the man-made laws we created were Euclidean zoning, which is fundamentally anti-urban, anti-rural and pro-suburban because it discriminates based on use rather than form. The modern environmental preservation movement has been somewhat successful at protecting nature, but it is usually at the cost of good urbanism. What we need now are advocated from good urban development to compete with the suburban sprawl-centric zoning and the at-all-costs rural preservation movement. Fortunately, form-based codes and transect-based zoning is now available and being tested all across the country. Form-based codes are essentially a code written in a way that artificially imposes natural laws on building that have been developed out of studying historical precedents from around the world. Form-based codes are fundamentally pro-urban, pro-suburban, and pro-rural. New Haven has been resisting form-based codes for several years now, most likely because this city is filled with bureaucrats, lawyers and city planners that only know how to administer Euclidean zoning and function-based codes and don’t want to lose their jobs or learn something new even if it greatly benefits everyone else. The planning profession has mostly been hi-jacked by people who don’t know what they’re doing and needs to be restored to urban designers, architects, and landscape architects with the government in the background. At the very least, this would restore the good name of architecture by rescuing it from the depths of modernism and bad taste where its been smoldering for several decades with little to show from it other than a bunch of incoherent, separate boxes floating in the buildings lots around the city and the country.
posted by: S on June 11, 2010 5:01pm
Macchu Piccu and De Frutos should keep trying and not give up on their corner, and the cops here should try harder to keep crime down here. My 1st instinct was to say - hey, we have empty storefronts over at East Grand and Quinnipiac, or up on Front, come on over here - we’ll have you. But, then, I read that the family lives there already and is committed to staying. They just need some good partners and good neighbors.
posted by: streever on June 11, 2010 5:52pm
Howelse? Oh, I apologize: I misunderstood your question. I honestly don’t know how else a business could—I don’t recall right now if some zones allow it “by right” (I’d assume that some do).
(this may also answer Pat’s question of “how do other businesses have outdoor seating”)
I want to stress that I’m speaking on my opinion on all of this—I have no insight into anyone else’s vote because there was no discussion. I can only share my own point of view, in any regard.
Zoning decisions like this one are difficult, but you simply must grant relief based on hardship. There have been several times that I have wished the system didn’t work that way, but I understand the need for impartial decision-making. (Again, why I really wish we’d all been able to talk about our rationale for voting on Tuesday)
I think the public has a right to know our thought-process and understand how this system works. It’s certainly not obvious to an outsider, and even to reporters who routinely cover these cases, I suspect it is rarely clear why a relief was granted or denied.
Yes that is completely logical. Fight the crime in the neighborhood but hindering those who have a vested interest in the neighborhood. Next lets ban neighborhood residents from sitting on their porch. Even better turn the neighborhood into a police sanctioned open air drug market.
posted by: Ned on June 12, 2010 9:43am
“BZA is tasked with a very specific mission to consider the use and the land”. So why are the police consulted? The cops, in New Haven (and apparently everywhere else), have some pretty strange ideas…
posted by: robn on June 12, 2010 12:18pm
You can link to New Haven Zoning from this city page.
I like porches. It’s good to increase the ratio of legitimate reasons to be outside enjoying yourself, to illegitimate ones.
posted by: 1244688 on June 12, 2010 7:47pm
Seems like members of the BZA hardly understand the regulations. What credentials if any are required to serve on the board?
As far as “hardship,” I believe that was the single word question for last year’s Fellows of All Soul’s entrance exam essay, a word chosen because it can be interpreted so many ways. At least in this case, Streever and the board’s “thought process” must be a uniquely philosophical one.
posted by: Justsaying on June 13, 2010 8:59am
The City Planning Dept recommends rejection of the deck to ZBA because “it’s a mismatch with the character of the neighborhood”. Give me a break fellas. That is a great statement for say, Whitney Ave or Townsend by the beach where the color of somebody’s porch or certain roofing material really could be construed as a “mismatch with the neighborhood”. In the case of Machu Picchu restaurant it just sounds like an excuse. Almost like ZBA are mocking these people, frankly. Perhaps an semi-enclosed outdoor area with a requirement of video surveillance of the area surrounding the restaurant would be more appropriate. Let the guys give it a try. Living in Fair Haven I’m also convinced NHPD does not have the manpower required to handle enforcement in challenged areas.
posted by: robn on June 13, 2010 11:33am
Superficially it appears that outdoor use is as of right for a BA district (Zoning Article V, Section 46). But then you’re referred to use regulations in <i> Section 42 Use regulations for business and industrial districts.
In the table in Sectino 42 it says, <i>“IF SUCH USES ARE DWELLINGS they shall be subject to the building requirements, parking standards, and all other appropriate Residence District regulations. Such regulations shall apply even though the building contains another use or uses in addition to a dwelling unit or units.”
Its not as of right and therefore a variance is required.
posted by: streever on June 14, 2010 10:51am
Ned: The police were not consulted. BZA allows anyone to appear and speak in favor or opposition. The police and the alderman chose to do so of their own volition.
Ben: While you may disagree with the way things are done, the boards choice and options are very limited. We are tasked to hear cases in which applicants demonstrate hardship—if an applicant does not demonstrate hardship, it would be inappropriate for the board to grant appeals despite things like how good or honest the business owner is or is not.
1244688: You add nothing to a discussion by simply saying “no one else understands what is happening”. BZA, like all citizen boards, is composed of citizens. In some communities it is primarily composed of developers and builders, and leads to some interesting conflicts of interest and corruption allegations. In New Haven it is primarily a citizen board, heavily advised by City Plan (professionals in the field). You may not like the idea of volunteer/citizen boards, but it doesn’t make us improper.
Justsaying: I can assure you that there was no tone of disrespect or mocking at the proceedings. The restaurant was treated with respect at all times and allowed appropriate time to make a case.
posted by: alexey on June 14, 2010 10:56am
A terrific discussion of this topic. I hope that this case will engender a broader debate and a review of the applicable laws, rules and regulations in the context of a broader public policy debate about what it means to be a vibrant people-friendly modern city. Apart from whatever the existing rules and tests are, I think a nicely designed seasonal patio, coupled with streetscape improvements and adequate parking would be desirable. Perhaps a permit could be linked to restaurant use, so if the property someday became, say, a hardware store, the patio might not be permitted. “Food” for thought.
posted by: davec on June 14, 2010 11:04am
What I want to know is what’s on that plate in the first photo? It’s making me hungry. Looks like shrimp w/ a kind of turmeric spiced cream sauce. The wonks down at the city should let these people feed the people.
posted by: streever on June 14, 2010 11:46am
davec: You should call your alder and urge them to change the zoning ordinance! Zoning Board members have 0 ability to change ordinances. We just are tasked with acting impartially and by the law.
posted by: davec on June 14, 2010 12:07pm
On a side note, has the city moved forward with ensuring that Carlos Pena down as Soco’s remove his illegal deck? You can see where I am going with this. Onerous zoning ordinances, coupled with poor city gov’t follow through w/r/t enforcement will only force the small business owners to go their own route regardless of the law.
posted by: RG Oliver on June 14, 2010 12:15pm
Rgo, Machu Picchu and Jose! You have to read this! BCO
posted by: Anstress Farwell on June 14, 2010 12:43pm
Well designed and operated public places are a great benefit to a neighborhood, and the Annex needs more uses that support public life.
Here’s some food for thought:
Planners often refer to places like parks, streets, and restaurants as the “Third Place.” Here are some good quotes/links.
http://www.pps.org/roldenburg/ PerspectivesThird Places Oldenburg identifies third places, or “great good places,” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.
Quotable “In the absence of informal public life, living becomes more expensive. Where the means and facilities for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the objects of private ownership and consumption.”
“Of course, seating along sidewalks is also important outside of parks. When combined with food, you have a real winning combination.”
posted by: Alphonse Credenza on June 14, 2010 1:59pm
They could always permit outdoor seating indoors. That way, everyone would have his way.
posted by: Tom Harned on June 15, 2010 9:11am
While I can’t say that I like the outcome, the BZA did its job here. The applicant didn’t demonstrate a hardship. However, the fact that the applicant needed to go to the BZA in the first place is a bit ridiculous.
This is a commercial zone and the businesses there should be allowed to build outdoor seating by right, without having to jump through hoops. If you look at the comments made in opposition to this, you’d think the applicant was trying to build a smelter.
Outdoor seating is a great benefit to the business owner, the customers, and the neighborhood. The places that do have outdoor seating in New Haven are always bustling and really don’t appear to be causing any crime.
I hope the owner gets himself a good real estate attorney and tries again. Best of luck.
posted by: Thomas Talbot on June 15, 2010 12:24pm
Although as City Plan staff I am reluctant to submit unsolicited comment concerning BZA applications to a forum such as this the lack of understanding concerning this application (starting with the article itself)compels me to offer the following:
1. The application was not for the deck or for use of the deck for dining purposes. Section 42, Table 3, Part E of the Zoning Ordinance permits restaurants (with both inside and outside dining) by right in General(BA)Districts.
2.That same section of the ordinance does require, however,a Special Exception for the sale of alcoholic beverages in restaurants, both inside and outside. This applicant previously received a Special Exception for liquor sales inside the restaurant and was now asking to do the same on a proposed deck.
3. Special Exceptions applications,unlike requests for variances, do not require a finding of hardship of any type. Section 63(d) of the Zoning Ordinance defines a Special Exception in the following manner: “The development and execution of a comprehensive zoning ordinance is based upon the division of the city into districts, within which the use of land and structures and the bulk and location of structures in relation to the land are substantially uniform. It is recognized, however, that there are certain uses and features which, because of their unique characteristics, cannot be distinctly classified or regulated in a particular district or districts, without consideration, in each case, of the impact of such uses and features upon neighboring uses and the surrounding area, compared with the public need for them at particular locations. Such uses and features are therefore treated as special exceptions.”
Furthermore the standards which must be taken into consideration by the Board include: “Special exceptions shall be granted only where the Board of Zoning Appeals finds that the proposed use or feature or the proposed extension or substantial alteration of an existing use or feature is in accord with the public convenience and welfare after taking into account, where appropriate: a. The nature of the proposed site, including its size and shape and the proposed size, shape and arrangement of structures; b. The resulting traffic patterns and adequacy of proposed off-street parking and loading; c. The nature of the surrounding area and the extent to which the proposed use or feature might impair its present and future development; d. The proximity of dwellings, churches, schools, public buildings and other places of public gathering; e. All standards contained in this ordinance; and f. The comprehensive plan of the City of New Haven, and other expressions of the purpose and intent of this ordinance.
The outcome aside, what I hope is a little clearer is that while the Ordinance certainly recognizes the value of outdoor activity in commercial areas of the City,it also recognizes the need to assure the quality of such activity especially in commercial areas immediately adjacent to residential districts.Also,that the role of the BZA in a case such as this involves not merely a discussion about or espousal of certain self-evident land use principles but rather the often difficult application of those principles to very specic and very real situations.
Thomas Talbot, Deputy Director, Zoning
Copies of the City Plan Report may be obtained from the City Plan Office
posted by: streever on June 15, 2010 1:35pm
Wow—I really missed the boat and misunderstood completely at the meeting. I wish we’d had the opportunity to discuss this more, I would not have voted to deny. As Thomas pointed out, discussion at these meetings rarely really happens. I wonder how many other commissioners had the same misunderstanding I did, and how the vote would hav gone if we’d all discussed this.
posted by: DEZ on June 16, 2010 10:54am
Hindsight, 20/20. Bravo Streever for making the connection. Could this vote have been tabled pending discourse? Also, and I must say this, the diatribe between the Alderman from the Annex and the BZA chair couldn’t have been an aside after the meeting? This is exactly why people feel uncomfortable approaching many boards. There is a feeling of entering a “good old boy” network, regardless of the actual gender of those “good old boys”! As well, when the Q Ave redo meetings were taking place, or the Ferry Street Bridge debacle was in full bloom, projects that impact this same neighborhood, I don’t remember this same Alderman attending the vast number of community sponsored meetings that were held. He seemed to appear more for the photo op sessions than the actual picketing /cleaning/posting/planning/discussion meetings. My 2 cents.