The property, also known as 81 Washington Avenue, has been co-owned by developers Craig Robins and Christian Jagodzinski since 2001. The ground floor was converted to restaurant use in 2007. Neisen Kasdin, attorney for 81 Washington Associates, wrote in an application letter to the Board that the owners plan “significant investments to reinvigorate the Property”.
At the hearing last week, Kasdin said of Robins’ plans, “He would like to improve the space such that it is more attractive so that a fine restaurant again ... could be open there.” Kasdin noted two issues with the location: the darker, undesirable seating area in the back of the current restaurant space and the parking spaces out front. “You all know as urbanists or planners or achitects that it is an undesirable condition to have surface parking on a pedestrian street so that’s going to be eliminated and he’s going to create this as a more garden-like environment which will allow outdoor dining.”
Moving seats outdoors will create a more appealing dining experience, Kasdin said. Initially, the plan for the expanded outdoor seating area created some concerns for the property’s neighbors but after discussions with the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA) and other residents, the group came to agreement on various operational conditions for a future restaurant.
Gerald Posner, a member of Board of the adjacent Cosmopolitan Condominium, told the Preservation Board, “It is a major modification.” In 2011, he said, the restaurant seating was increased from 130 to the current allowable 246. These plans, he noted, would increase the outdoor seating from the current 34 to 120. Posner said a small group added up the outdoor seats in all of the nearby outdoor cafes and came up with “the same level of outdoor seats as will be on this single expanded terrace.”
“That said we are not here to oppose,” he told the Board, “… because we believe we have come to a reasonable agreement on the hours and that by closing at midnight on the outdoor terrace for both beverage and for food, it is a balance with the rest of the neighborhood. And that is a balance that we can live with but it was that expansion that initially concerned us.”
Clare McCord, SOFNA President, added, “We want a property like this to be successful. We want it to be successful for everyone” including area residents.
Kasdin read off the list of conditions agreed to with SOFNA:
- No attached exterior speakers except those for life safety conditions, temporary or permanent on the property
- Distributed sound system for ambient background noise
- Rooftop shall not be used for restaurant or alcoholic beverage service or for commercial use and if used for any purpose shall close no later than 8 pm
- Exterior food and beverage service including alcoholic beverage service shall end no later than 12 am, seven days a week
- Nor may patrons not already seated outside be provided an outdoor table after 12 am
- Interior food and beverage service including alcoholic beverage service shall end no later than 2 am seven days a week
Kasdin noted, “This is consistent with the underlying zoning as it exists today. This project was approved before then, the original project, but this is consistent with the zoning for South Pointe today.”
Architect Michael Ramirez presented the plans, which show multiple outdoor terraces and a retractable awning canopy that he indicated would be “open most of the time when the weather permits”. Echoing Kasdin’s remarks, he said, “Removing parking spaces is an improvement from a diner experience and urban standpoint.”
Board member Nancy Liebman expressed concern about the large canopy structure, asking if there was a better way to accomplish the goal to provide shade.
David Holtzman, Director of Development for Robin’s Dacra Development, answered that, unlike umbrellas, a canopy can be retracted to provide a better view of the building from the pedestrian level. He noted that while large, mature trees would provide shade, they don’t provide protection from rain.
Board Chair Stevan Pardo said, “I think that this reflects what I see as the future of a lot of the restaurants that we have down in areas where there is a lack of activity on the street level of people … I think this is an example of where you’ve changed the feel of this restaurant to something that’s going to have more of an outdoor feel which I think is exactly what is going to be great for the area.”
The Board voted unanimously to approve the application. Details here.
Renderings courtesy TAI Architecture