Da Legna’s Case Advances

Thomas MacMillan PhotoDa Legna Restaurant should be allowed to have fewer parking spaces than zoning laws require at its expanded restaurant, but here’s what would be an even better idea: Add valet parking.

That recommendation came from the City Plan Commission Wednesday night.

The commission made that non-binding recommendation as it gave a thumbs-up for the application that the 858 State St, eatery has before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). That two-part application asks for a special exception for permission to increase seats from 42 to 47, with three parking spots where 12 are required, and for permission to sell liquor, along with beer and wine.

That application has sparked controversy in the Upper State Street neighborhood in park sparked by concerns of a rival tavern across the street, Christopher Martin’s. Click here for a previous story about that, and here for the wide-ranging reader discussion.

Wednesday night’s discussion also touched on a hot issue in town these days: Whether the city should allow for less parking than in the past to promote development. Click here to read about that, here for the reader discussion.

When you add seats, you must usually under city rules provide parking, one parking spot for every four seats. That is why Da Legna’s application was at City Plan Wednesday night for the wisdom of the commissioners before going back to BZA for a full ruling next month. (City Plan was voting on just that part of the two-part application.)

Da Legna’s is the former Amato’s restaurant. New owners purchased it in August 2011. A fire ripped it apart, and the rebuilt restaurant emerged under new management and larger, and also with a bar offering liquor and attracting the attention of neighbors and the competitor bar, Christopher Martin’s across the street.

Most of the discussion Wednesday night was about the travails of parking that the expansion would bring.

“At no point between the establishment of the restaurant and the request for the special exception was the issue parking addressed, contrary to the City recommendation,” reads the current City Plan report.

“Fact is this is probably the worst spot in town for parking,” said City Plan Chairman Ed Mattison.

“I know it’s difficult out there [parking-wise], but it hasn’t reached the point that two more spots will tip the neighborhood from difficult to dysfunctional,” said City Plan staff zoning guru Tom Talbot.

Mattison suggested that perhaps now was the time to draw the line, and he had an idea. “Christopher Martin didn’t do valet parking out of altruism, but they had to do it to stay in business,” he said.

Talbot said that an unrelated administrative error the city made—signing off on allowing full bar service and an expanded number of tables after the fire—shouldn’t be part of the commissioners’ considerations. Just the parking issue.

That didn’t wash completely with Mattison: “Although it’s not our purview, there are a bunch of city screw ups. It does affect my thinking.”

Adam Marchand called for a revisiting of all the city’s parking ordinances. That would wait for another evening.

“We’re doing this [granting the parking relief] for other restaurants, businesses like Stone Hearth,” newly opened in Westville, he said. “But put in [the recommendation] valet parking to involve the business owner to manage traffic flow.”

City Plan Executive Director Karyn Gilvarg said she’d rephrase the recommendation to the BZA to say in effect: Applicant is strongly recommended to seek additional off site parking, with or without valet service.

The item passed as amended and now goes back to the BZA.

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posted by: HewNaven on March 21, 2013  9:08am

“Fact is this is probably the worst spot in town for parking,” said City Plan Chairman Ed Mattison.

That sound more like Ed Mattison’s opinion than fact. In my opinion, Upper State is one of the best places to park as long as you don’t feel entitled to park directly in front of the place your going. There’s nothing wrong with going for a little walk, especially in a nice neighborhood.

posted by: Curious on March 21, 2013  9:46am

Doesn’t less parking at a bar also discourage drunk driving?  Just a thought.  If people are walking, they’re not getting behind the wheel smashed.

posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2013  1:24pm

HewNaven is absolutely correct. There are vast amounts of parking in New Haven as long as people do not feel entitled to have their own personal space in front of their building on a 24/7/365 basis. 

If there is a true shortage any place (and there currently is not), then consider that many of our roads are way too wide. Use the road space for diagonal back in parking, and you’ll add spaces as well as potentially reduce dangerous levels of speeding.