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.
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.”
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.