Westvillers came out to a zoning hearing to support two new plans to build up and boost nightlife in their commercial village, while upstairs music teachers added a discordant note.
The occasion was a hearing at the Hall of Records of the Board of Zoning Appeals, which considered plans for a new apartment complex anchored by a resurrected Delaney’s Bar & Tap Room as well as a nighttime liquor permit for Manjares Bistro.
The zoners concluded the hearing without a vote, sending the matter to the City Plan Commission for recommendations before a final vote next month.
The couple who own Manjares Bistro are seeking special exceptions to serve liquor without providing any extra parking, where nine spots are required, at their first-floor eatery on West Rock Avenue (technically 838 Whalley Ave.) across from Edgewood Park.
And at 882 Whalley Ave., at the corner of Whalley and Central, the developer behind a resurrected Delaney’s is seeking special exceptions to serve liquor with only two dozen parking spots, where 60 are required. He also needs a variance — a tougher legal standard that requires proof of hardship — to waive the 11-foot side yard that’s supposed to act as a buffer with the homes on Fountain Street. The $3.2 million project would include 22 apartments above the ground-floor restaurant.
City staffers recommended that the zoning board members approve both applications’ liquor licenses and parking exceptions, but they said they need more information about why Delaney’s should receive a pass on the side yard.
If both projects are green-lit, they’d bring greater density to the Westville Village’s commercial core, in line with the aims of a proposed special zoning district that alders are currently debating.
New York-Inspired Bar
Ana De Los Angeles, a pastry chef, opened Manjares eight years ago, shortly after she and her husband, Miguel Trelles, a painter, first moved from New York City to Westville. Starting as a coffee shop at first, the business was such a hit that she added an evening tapas menu. Now, De Los Angeles said, she wants to bring something else to the neighborhood: a spot where local artists can talk ideas over cocktails.
“I’ve dreamt of having a little bar, a space to be quiet, relaxed and conversational, something in the bohemian style,” she explained after the meeting. “A little spot, where lots of artists come together.”
The add-on to Manjares will feel like a Lower Manhattan lounge, De Los Angeles said, maybe like a candle-lit spot in the West Village. But not exactly. “I have my own taste, too,” she added. She plans to call the space “Sala Manjares,” Spanish for living room, where she envisions her patronage like “a big family together.”
Thirty Westville residents signed on to a letter of support. Meanwhile, tenants living upstairs in a set of three-story buildings, including two violinists and an artist, said they don’t want any part in the community De Los Angeles has planned below. They said the noisy commotion, the puffs of smoke, tipsy patrons and a lack of parking might shutter their business.
The complex was built with public help with the idea of having commercial activity on the ground floor and working artists living in lower-rent spaces above.
Violet Harlow, a visual artist, said she needed quiet to make her art, run workshops and “try to keep ends together” in her home. She said she’d had to sleep elsewhere twice because noise at Manjares was so loud that the music’s bass shook her possessions.
One of her students, Alice Fritz, said she worried the bar would interfere with her classes. The limited parking might pose an obstacle if she needs to carry loads of supplies, and the noise might be disruptive, she claimed.
“Parking is already a challenge at times. There’s already been a distracting amount of noise, and it’s not a bar there at the moment,” Fritz said. “I want to be able to continue enjoying my workshops, not the not-niceness of people smoking and drinking.”
Bethany Wilder and Ben Dean, two musicians who teach grade-schoolers how to play violin, said they worry they’d have to relocate their businesses, because parents might not feel safe dropping their kids off.
In the City Plan staff report, Thomas Talbot, the deputy zoning director, noted that the property had been granted parking relief back in 2003 without any issues. “Traffic problems have not manifested in the intervening years,” he wrote.
Gabe De Silva, who runs an art gallery across the street, argued having more people out on the street is exactly what Westville needs to make people feel safe at night. “It’s only safe if you have tons of people walking in the street,” he said. “Safety is in numbers, not perception.”
The owners said they’ll do what they can to limit the noise.
City staffers said they’d prefer to extend closing time until 11:30 p.m., but Trelles said he is “adamant” about closing up at 11 p.m. on the weekends for the neighbors’ sake. “We want to have a family-centered place,” he said.
Thea Buxbaum, the landlord, said that earlier closing time would be added to the lease. After working closely with De Los Angeles and Trelles on a management plan to keep all her tenants happy, she said, she supports the quest for the exception.
De Los Angeles added that she won’t be hiring deejays to spin tracks, and she’s going to try sound-proofing the building. “I know it can work,” she said, citing people who live above bars in New York City without complaint.
New Delaney’s Designs Emerge
Down the block, Delaney’s, the much-beloved neighborhood institution that burnt to the ground in 2014, won full-throated support from its neighbors, even as they ran up against tighter restrictions in the zoning ordinances.
Responding to previous complaints that the design looked too modern for the village, Leon Mularski, the architect, went back to the drawing board again and touched up his work. Displaying sleek new renderings on Tuesday night, he said he’d broken up a wrap-around balcony with jut-outs of gabled brick, giving more rhythm to the building’s upper floors. He said he also added a clock as focal point above the residential entrance on Central Avenue.
Mularski said he’d tried to achieve a “village look” in his design, “keeping the scale down” even as he added more residential units than what used to be at the site.
“We tried to marry it in with the scale of other facades,” Mularski said. “We did not try to mimic others; that was never our intention. It makes a statement as you enter into Westville.”
Regarding the variance, he tried to convince the zoning board that the building needed to butt up to the property line on Fountain Street to reduce its bulk. By keeping the side-yard down to six feet, half what’s required by code, Mularski said he was able to add more variation along the sidewalk.
In his report, Talbot noted that the situation is unusual. Businesses in a BA District generally don’t need a side yard. But because the Delaney’s lot borders an RM-2 District, it has to have one by law. In this case, the neighboring property isn’t actually a house. It’s a bank parking lot, making the “intrusion … less objectionable,” he wrote.
However, he remained unconvinced that Delaney’s had established a hardship. Unlike special exceptions, which are discretionary, variances can be granted only if a hardship inherent to the property, such as unusual terrain or historic structure, necessitates a waiver.
“Staff advises that the applicant must provide a legally justifiable basis for this variance before it could provide a positive recommendation to the Board,” Talbot wrote.
If Mularski had to move the building up, eliminating the balconies, “it would start to get a 30-foot facade right on the front of Central Avenue, and I really don’t want to do that,” he said.
Elizabeth Donius, the president of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, echoed that argument, saying that fitting in with the neighborhood’s character should be more important than the setback.
“It’s incredibly important what this building looks like. This is a pivotal site for us. We worked hard and these guys worked with us and advisors that we asked them to use to rejigger their plan,” she said. “I don’t know what constitutes a hardship, but that is a critical question that this be a well-designed, attractive building on that corner that helps a neighborhood trying to grow.”