Westville To Zoners: We Want New Restaurant In Old Bank

Lucy Gellman Photo Westvillers spoke as one Tuesday night in urging zoners to allow a local restaurant team to proceed with turning an abandoned bank branch into a new eatery and watering hole at the corner of Fountain Street and Central Avenue.

That argument from Westville residents, business owners, and Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) members made the pitch for a special exception at a public hearing at 200 Orange St. held by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The proposal for the new neighborhood restaurant and bar — from the team behind Geronimo and Shell & Bones in the old First Niagara Bank building — was referred to the City Plan Commission for an advisory opinion, then will return to the zoning board for a vote.

Markeshia Ricks File Photo Calling the proposed restaurant a case study in “the kind of vibrancy we need” in Westville, WVRA Interim Director Lizzy Donius suggested that it would bring new economic development and community pride to the neighborhood.

Westville has been looking for that since Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room burned to the ground across the street two years ago, she said.

“I think this could be a great asset for our neighborhood, and an anchor for the community,” she said.

“Westville is very much in need of a restaurant for dinner,” said neighbor Tagan Engel.

“I love food, and I especially love the food of Arturo Camacho,” she said. “I’m very excited to have them in the neighborhood.”

Gabriel Da Silva, who runs The Frame Shop & Westville Gallery, said Westville could use more foot traffic outside of brunching hours.

Gellman Photo Zoners, in turn, were cautiously receptive to the appeal, a special exception to allow a restaurant liquor permit and six parking spaces where 61 are currently required. While BZA member Charles Decker asked where the nearest public lot. (There are two by Whalley and Blake.)  WVRA President Lisa Brandes assured him that “parking can handle” a new restaurant. She said she’d never seen a negative impact on parking with the old Delaney’s, which burned to the ground two blocks away in 2014, or Stone Hearth, which operated until November at Whalley and West Rock. She added that she has observed a sizable increase in ride-calling services like Uber and Lyft, reducing the need for on-site parking.

In a staff report, Deputy Zoning Director Tom Talbot suggested that the restaurant close by 11:30 p.m. each night; applicants’ attorney Ken Rozich has requested a 1 a.m. close on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends. In addition, Talbot asked that the restaurant’s team specify the type of entertainment attached to the restaurant liquor permit. 

The proposal comes on the heels of a new plan for Westville’s commercial district that was proposed earlier this month.

In his initial appeal to the BZA for the Fountain-Central restaurant, Rob Bolduc requested a special exception for the premises, which comprise both the First Niagara Bank building at 34 Fountain St. and its parking lot at 614 Central Ave. As those properties are considered in BA (general business) and RM-2 residential district (high middle density), zoning changes warrant special exceptions to allow the liquor permit and change to on-site parking spaces.

In a report released before Monday night’s meeting, the city Department of Transportation, Traffic & Parking had, like Decker, expressed concerns about the proposed reduction of parking spaces, and the possibility that such a reduction would create parking disruptions in the surrounding Westville Village area, a district that has both businesses and residential housing with need for on-street parking. Following a Feb. 4 site visit to both the bank building and surrounding parking areas, the department recommended that the restaurant, if brought to fruition, “manage its patrons” by directing them to a parking lot at Whalley Avenue and Blake Street, two minutes and 10 seconds away by foot.

That report also requested that the restaurant provide “adequate secure bicycle parking,” with no further specification of what that bicycle parking might entail, a suggestion that Rozich said the team plans to make good on if the plan goes through. 

The proposal made its debut at a Westville Community Management Team meeting last month, where Bolduc outlined his plan to convert Westville’s now-empty First Niagara Bank building into restaurant supervised by Shell & Bones Camacho. The property is currently owned by Key Bank.

At that meeting, he said the proposed 3,400 square-foot restaurant would fill a “metaphoric and geographic hole” left after Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room was destroyed in a 2014 fire. He returned to the management team this month with more details, and received support from neighbors.

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posted by: LorcaNotOrca on March 22, 2017  7:37am

Plans for further development in that Westville strip should be fast-tracked, somehow. I figure that area needs a restaurant like this one and at least one other bar—if you really want people to go there and stick around it’s gonna take more than one restaurant. That probably goes without saying, but perhaps I’m a little impatient over how little has been done there since Delaney’s burned down (a shame about Stone Hearth, but oh well…). It left some mighty huge shoes to fill, but we need at least an even-enough replacement and then some.
I nearly laughed out loud when Talbot suggested closing the place by 11:30 each night. C’mon, man.

I’m no urban planner, but maybe a few new places leads to increased foot traffic and then maybe a better environment for some more shops to stick around? Other way around?  I’m sure someone somewhere has the answer, but it doesn’t seem to be anyone in charge.

posted by: Renewhavener on March 22, 2017  8:40am

We need to stop talking about fast tracking projects.  So sick of picking winners.  All projects should be ‘same tracked’.  Take away all this administrative burden please.

We cannot grow green shoots from under a brick!

posted by: Elm City Resident on March 22, 2017  10:00am

@Renewhavener, this isn’t about picking winners, this is about community and city viability and vibrancy as well as what New Haven residents want. Most every Westville resident I know wants this restaurant on the fast track, myself included.

posted by: ADAK on March 22, 2017  11:32am

Why wouldn’t this place be allowed to stay open until 1AM? New West Cafe, which is 50ft from it, is open until 1AM, 2AM on weekends. Wasn’t Delaney’s open past midnight?

I swear, the way people think in this town is backwards. 61 parking spaces too? People bike, walk, Uber—Westville Village isn’t suburbia.

Please don’t hinder development. Be cautious, but let’s be realistic here. Unless the city would rather have empty lots and buildings all over town.

posted by: AMIWest on March 22, 2017  12:03pm

I am a supporter of this use but am pleased with the process. These “hoops” are only cumbersome if you support the land use. If the community and neighbors are against a project or have concerns that need to be addressed the process is their only tool.

posted by: LivingInNewHaven on March 22, 2017  3:21pm

Not one black face in the bunch.  Goes to show the difference in priorities…like how about worrying about police brutality, food security, educational iniquities, or health disparities.  Saddens me.  Pleading for a restaurant.  Plead for justice, how about that. >rolling my eyes<

posted by: trini8200 on March 22, 2017  3:53pm

We need new life in Westville

posted by: southwest on March 22, 2017  5:17pm

Great idea because I miss Delaney it was my favorite out door place in the summertime..why is the city planners coming up with all the road blocks..60 parking places come on give me a break…most people walk there ..I walked when Delaney was there…the taxpayers have spoken let the restaurant get going…city planners really no how to put a damper on business in New Haven…they are so stuck in there I’m in control attitude..do as I say…that old way is played out but they still want to hold on to power…need new blood and younger viewcpoints on these boards..they have actually been making decisions way to long and it’s time for new ideas now…the village need more foot traffic it’s like a ghost town late at night..why close at 11:30 when the other bars in area close at 2:00 am ..on weekends and 1:00 am weeknight..

posted by: westville man on March 22, 2017  7:24pm

LivinginNewHaven.  While I don’t disagree with you, some of us do both.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 22, 2017  10:03pm

I wonder if, instead of “ride-calling” and “ride-sharing”, we should refer to lyft and uber as “ride-exploiting.”  The last two times I took lyft, it sounded like the drivers were tearing up their cars for next to nothing.  For these tech firms “sharing” means huge salaries for Silicon Valley and poverty for everyone else.

posted by: Lost in new haven on March 25, 2017  4:49pm

What does a zoning committee meeting or fast tracking a project regarding a new restaurant have anything to do with the comments made by LIvinginnewhaven. We all have the same concerns as LINH but know what forum to make our concerns known.  This is not the one!!!  “Rolling my eyes” she says sarcastically