P&Z Approves ‘White Buffalo’ Hot-Dog-and-Brats Restaurant and Bar for Downtown New Canaan

Despite some concerns regarding outdoor lighting, members of the Planning & Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to allow a hot dog-themed restaurant to open in a commercial space in downtown New Canaan. To be located down the “alley” at the top of Elm Street—formerly occupied by New Canaan Music (now on Main Street), near the former Chef Luis restaurant—the new establishment, “White Buffalo,” will include a 13-stool bar and rows of two-person tables that bring the total seating to about 35 to 40 people, according to New Canaan resident Dave Tonkovich, one of three local men who is launching the business. A 1993 New Canaan High School graduate along with business partner Dom Valente—town resident Doug Harris is also an owner—Tonkovich described White Buffalo as a “place where New Canaan as a community can gather and support each other, whether that is having our teams over after a game, hosting a fundraiser for the lacrosse or hockey team, or honoring our local Police Department or Fire Department.”

“We feel like this is something the town needs,” Tonkovich said during a public hearing at Town Hall. “You might say it is built by New Canaan, for New Canaan.”

Tonkovich reviewed some national hot dog consumption data and said that White Buffalo is designed to “fit the bill” for locals meeting after a game or with a friend or client “or when you are coming off the train.”

“Our goal is not to be all things to all people,” he said. Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, restaurants are permitted in the Retail A zone with site plan approval. After some discussion, P&Z approved White Buffalo’s site plan 7-0.

Officials: New Canaan Needs More Formal Way To Review Architecture of Proposed Building Projects Downtown

Saying that guidelines for maintaining and enhancing the village feel of downtown New Canaan need more teeth, planning officials are seeking a more formal way to review the architecture, scale and materials of proposed building projects in the business district. Members of a Planning & Zoning Commission subcommittee said at their most recent meeting that New Canaan must find a better way to ensure adherence to a 27-page document created in 2010 called the ‘Village District Design Guidelines.’

Though P&Z created that document, “we never put a tight set of regulations around it,” Jean Grzelecki of the Plan of Conservation & Development Implementation Committee said at the group’s most recent meeting. “We have a design manual which is something we recommend that everybody follows, and maybe we could strengthen that by adding it a as a special permit to the business district,” she said at the Nov. 28 meeting, held in Town Hall. “Some reasonable adherence to the design manual, because everyone once in a while we get some very strange-looking stuff.

Officials Recommend Raising ‘Fee-in-Lieu’ Parking Rates for Commercial Projects Downtown

Saying New Canaan’s rates lag other towns and haven’t been upped in years, officials are recommending that the town raise its fees for those seeking to pay money into a parking fund in lieu of providing the required number of spaces for commercial construction projects. A committee of the Planning & Zoning Commission proposed at its most recent meeting that the baseline fee for the first “fee-in-lieu” space go up from $17,500 to $20,000, with increases in other categories to follow. “We have seen some resistance at $17,500 but I think it would not seem unreasonable to me to bump it a little bit this year,” Jean Grzelecki of the Plan of Conservation & Development Implementation Committee said at the group’s most recent meeting, held Nov. 28 at Town Hall. Going to $20,000 “seems pretty reasonable,” she said.

Officials Propose Way To Allow Service Businesses To Occupy Street-Level Commercial Spaces Downtown

Seeking to give commercial property owners and businesses eyeing space in the heart of downtown New Canaan more flexibility, officials are considering a change to a section of the zoning regulations that governs what types of enterprises are allowed in street-level locations. As it is, the New Canaan Zoning Regulations allow, with site plan approval, a number of business types in what’s called the ‘Retail A zone’—it encompasses the one-way portion of Elm Street, the first block of South Avenue and Main Street roughly between Burtis and Locust. Those uses include retail businesses up to a certain size, restaurants, food shops and theaters. Service establishments such as exercise studios also are allowed in the zone, though not on the first floor. Yet in a difficult retail environment, many commercial spaces “are simply too large to get [tenants],” Jean Grzelecki, chairman of a subcommittee of the Planning & Zoning Commission, said at the group’s meeting Tuesday night.

P&Z Denies Aquarion’s Bid To Subdivide Indian Waters Drive Property

Saying a wooded property at the end of Indian Waters Drive is too narrow to subdivide and that a development proposal is out of keeping with the residential neighborhood at the end of a private access way, officials on Tuesday night denied an application to carve out two building lots there. The Planning & Zoning Commission voted 9-0 to deny the closely followed special permit and two-lot subdivision applications, filed on behalf of Aquarion. Though the proposed subdivision would set aside 4.1 acres of open space, it provides no real access to it, according to commissioner Laszlo Papp. “I do not believe that the commission has the authority to waive that requirement [for accessibility to open space], either by Special Permit or otherwise,” Papp said during the commission’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “So that I see as a serious problem for approval.