Zoning Board of Review members called the project "ambitious" at last week’s meeting, but ultimately pushed off making a decision on a three-part application by seeking a full liquor license and to build a theater and rooftop deck on its Main Street property.
Kenneth Tetzner, who bought Phil’s in partnership with his father two years ago, said the project would bring the arts and the outdoor dining environment to Main Street, something all the downtown businesses could benefit from.
“Anytime you bring an event downtown – anything like that – every business profits because there is more foot traffic,” said Tetzner at the Wednesday night meeting.
While the property is zoned for commercial uses including retail, restaurant and theaters, parking constraints on the property could halt some of the expansion.
Nancy Letendre, lawyer to the Zoning Board, reminded the board that parking requirements for businesses in the downtown area are already cut in half because of the availability of on-street and public parking. Phil’s would need 43 additional spaces to accommodate the new uses on its property; it is seeking relief from 20 of those.
Zoning Board members seemed ready to approve a full liquor license for sales in the existing restaurant as well as in the theater. The board granted a beer and wine service license to Phil’s in July of 2010, but members worried an open rooftop deck could turn into a bar atmosphere that would alter the commercial district’s character.
“This is a very ambitious project, but I’m more concerned about this rooftop deck,” said John Bernardo, a member of the board. “What is it going to look like with a bunch of people who have had a few drinks? Can we impose limited hours?”
A consensus on the board agreed a rooftop bar atmosphere could become raucous if not properly managed.
“People envision enjoying the river and scenery back there,” said Stephanie Osborn, the only board member to endorse the idea of outdoor dining on the rooftop. “I think is a great idea because in the summer people just want to be out by the water or outside and other places might lose business because we do not have that.”
Tetzner plans to renovate the old Hera Gallery, transforming it into a with a full-service bar and stage area. Shows would run Friday and Saturday nights with a Sunday matinee time. An old brick wall near Phil’s is all that remains of the Little Red Trolley. Tetzner recently demolished the building because it was too dilapidated to repair. He plans to build a single-story retail location in its stead. The rooftop dining area would sit on top of the store, accommodating 44 guests and include a small eight-seat service bar. Tetzner already gained approval at a meeting in April to expand liquor sales to a second floor service area that has yet to open. Tetzner plans to connect the rooftop dining to the second floor dining room with a catwalk.
Although many nearby businesses, including the Downtown Merchants Association wrote letters in support of Tetzner’s expansion, one local entrepreneur raised concerns.
“I just don’t know how they are going to service all these people,” said Wayne Cahoon, who owns and rents space to several Main Street businesses. He also owns an off-street private 30-space parking lot across from Phil’s that he worried would be overtaken by over activity across the street.. “I like to be neighborly, but I don’t want to be abused. I know at times there are going to be problems with parking for my tenants.”
Zoning Board members worried Tetzner’s plan for a quiet rooftop dining area could turn into a destination for drinking. They also had problems visualizing the concept and asked Tetzner to return next month with clearer drawings of what it would look like.
“I don’t think it’s in the character of the neighborhood,” said Ernest George, chairman. “The expansion of alcohol upstairs on an open deck could alter the general character of the downtown area, but I could be convinced otherwise.”
“I would sketch something to be a little more enclosed that opens in the summer,” said Osborn. “I would love to see it there, I think it’s something new, but I want it to be keeping in line with the aesthetics.”
The board voted 6-0 to keep the hearing open so that Tetzner and his attorney, John Kenyon could return at the Feb. 15 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall with more details.
“I don’t want to approve something all at once when we don’t know how it’s going to impact,” said George.