An experienced restaurateur wants to open a new eatery on Forest Street that would include a sushi bar, but before pursuing that plan, the building’s owner is seeking the town’s permission to help meet a difficult parking requirement, records show.
That vision for the space at 11 Forest St.—vacant since Peachwave frozen yogurt closed one year ago—represents a proposal only at this stage, the property’s owner told NewCanaanite.com.
What’s needed in order to kickstart the project is approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission for Frank Elmasry of 3-11 Forest Street KKE LLC to pay a fee instead of figuring out some way to provide the estimated eight physical parking spaces that would be needed if the commercial space is re-classified from “retail” (as it is currently) to “restaurant.”
In an Aug. 2 application to P&Z, Elmasry said: “The potential restaurant owner plans to make significant investments in the fit-out in order to provide a venue that is aesthetically pleasing and in harmony with the existing establishments on Forest Street, adding to the attractive character of the town. The owner has a track record of success in New Jersey and New York and this would be his first location in Connecticut. His unique cuisine would make it complementary to the other restaurants in New Canaan.”
It isn’t clear just what the restaurant would offer, though a floor plan obtained by NewCanaanite.com details a 4-stool bar as well as a 6-stool sushi bar on entering from Forest Street, as well as four tables and five booths in a dining area.
Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, businesses in the “magic circle” of the Retail A zone along Main and Elm Streets do not need to provide parking.
For the Retail B zone, which includes Forest Street businesses that do not have Main Street addresses, a retailer must have one parking space per 200 square feet of gross floor area (see page 111 here), but a restaurant must have one space per 100 square feet.
The regulations allow that by a special permit and with two-thirds vote of the Planning & Zoning Commission, a property owner may pay a per-space “fee-in-lieu” of the parking requirement, so long as certain conditions are met.
They include that the additional parking spaces could not be located on the site, that the proposal will not detract from the village feel and quality of life downtown and that the change in use will be beneficial to the community and consistent with the Plan of Conservation & Development. (The rules currently call for a fee of $7,500 per space, officials say, and the zoning regs require that “fees collected from such payments shall be placed into a fund to be used solely for the acquisition, development, expansion or capital repair of public parking facilities.”)
P&Z is scheduled to hear the matter during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall.
According to Elmasry, the building’s private parking lot (out back) “is currently insufficient in size to accommodate the parking requirement of a restaurant.”
That lot has 36 spaces, half of which “are designated and reserved by name for the office tenants occupying the upper floors.”
“The remaining half of the parking spaces are undesignated and are available for the retail business that is located on this property. In addition, we have a part-time security guard/parking attendant who helps implement the in-house rules. However, our parking lot has always been used by unauthorized individuals who park their cars while visiting other establishments in town.”
The property’s owners are facing a hardship in filling the vacancy at 11 Forest St., Elmasry told P&Z in his application.
“On two separate occasions, restaurants that wanted to rent our vacant space terminated their negotiations when they learnt about the additional costly parking that is required under the current regulations because our property is a few feet outside the magic circle,” he said.