Mar 11, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Neighbor opposition to a proposed village business has claimed its second victim.
The village planning board voted 3-1 at their latest meeting to oppose the zone change application of landlord Eric Burrell and restaurateur Alicyn Hart in their proposal to move Circa, Hart’s restaurant, from its current location on Albany Street down to 4 Chenango St.
The planning board’s decision is only a non-binding recommendation; the village board has the final say, which they may issue at their April 2 meeting.
Until then, neither Hart nor Burrell are conceding defeat.
“I remain hopeful. I don’t think the last nail is in the coffin yet,” Hart said. “I hope that the village board sees this [proposal] as an asset to the community — so it hasn’t been sunk yet.”
“I will ask the village board to approve this [despite the planning board’s decision]. Absolutely,” Burrell said. “I did not get the public involved before; now I will seek public input, and we’ll see what the general public wants.”
Hart and Burrell’s proposal — officially submitted to the planning board by Burrell’s company, Pro-Tel Properties II, LLC — was first brought before the village board in January, when they unveiled their plan for Burrell, owner of the medical office building at 4 Chenango St., to build a two-level, 2,500 square-foot addition to the back of the building and have Circa move into the first floor. Circa has been located at 76 Albany St. for the past eight years, but Hart, who leases the 1,200-square-foot space, said she and her landlord could not agree on a new lease agreement so she will move her restaurant to another location by the end of May.
At their initial January presentation, Hart and Burrell were told they would need to request a zone change to have a restaurant on the property, since it is currently zoned as an R-10 Residential District. Mayor Kurt Wheeler and Village Attorney Jim Stokes said a planned development (PD) zone seems like the most logical zone change to make. The village board referred the zone change application to the planning board for a recommendation. Typically, the village board follows the planning board’s recommendation on such issues.
In January, and again before the board in February, Burrell and Hart said they had spoken with the Chenango Street neighbors and had received much positive feedback about the proposal. Hart said she was not going to change her business model at all — there would be no additional lights, live music or other obtrusive elements — she was just switching locations.
The neighbors, however, came to the February board meeting, and to the February planning board meeting, and voiced numerous concerns about the potential neighborhood impact of the restaurants lights, noise, parking and traffic issues and even garbage. Neighbor Helen Stacy retained local attorney Paul Curtin to represent her and make her concerns especially known.
The neighbors have all submitted letters to the planning board opposing the requested zone change. Curtin submitted a letter on March 10 opposing the requested zone change as “counter to the stated goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan” and an inappropriate land use in an R-10 district.
“Not unlike the Farnham Street bakery, neither the mayor nor the village attorney anticipated the neighbor opposition as was received,” said planning board Chair Rich Huftalen.
The Farnham Street bakery was another zone change request by a local business that ultimately was quashed by vocal neighborhood opposition last year. Local resident Susan Light purchased the house at 8 Farnham St. with the idea to refurbish the dilapidated structure and put a commercial-grade kitchen on the first floor and use the two second-floor rooms as office space. Neighbors protested, decrying the potential drop in property values; loss of quality of life from potential noise, odors, lighting and increased traffic; safety concerns for neighborhood children due to increased street traffic; and setting a negative precedent in allowing a commercial business on a residential street.
All of these same issues were brought to the planning board about the Circa plan as well. Huftalen argued in favor of recommending allowance of the zone change, stating that all these issues could be addressed in site plan review, as they were in last year’s tumultuous Empire Farmstead Brewery proposal.
Huftalen made a motion to approve the zone change proposal, which failed 1-3 (with member Anne McDowell absent). Member Jennifer Gavilondo then made the motion to disapprove the proposal, which passed 3 to 1, with Huftalen dissenting.
“I think it lacks foresight to quash this before allowing the opportunity for success for a local restaurateur to move her business to a different venue,” said Huftalen. “We have an opportunity for investing in the community and I don’t think it’s appropriate for local government to quash that. I was disappointed in the outcome.”
Gavilondo said she voted to reject the proposal because she did not believe it was in harmony with the comprehensive plan, which places significant emphasis on both enhancing the village business district and on the character and quality of residential neighborhoods in the village. She said she also felt the proposal did not meet the criteria set out in sec 180-69(C) of the village code and that as a parcel of less than five acres there needed to be an even greater showing that the proposed Planned Development zone advanced the objectives in 180-69(C).
“I don’t disagree with Rich on the need for creative business development. However, the planning board is not a policy-making body. The planning board should follow the village code and the comprehensive plan and other applicable laws and guidelines,” Gavilondo said after the meeting. “I would welcome discussion by the village board of creating a ‘creekside district’ or other means to increase, in an environmentally responsible way, the use of the creekside. It is truly an underused resource. But that should be left to the elected officials of the village who can legislate such a result. Decisions such as these are not easy, but I believe that the proposal did not meet the objectives set out in the code.”
Mayor Kurt Wheeler said the village board “will be communicating with the applicant and neighbors to determine any potential options for our April meeting.”
As for Hart and Circa, if the zone change is ultimately rejected, she has no specific plans as to what she will do or where she may go with her restaurant — but it may not be in Cazenovia.
“Maybe people will have to do without Circa,” she said. “I don’t have to stay here. I can go anywhere. But I’m not there yet in my thought process.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.