The Selectmen on Thursday discussed a request by a retail business owner to have a “node” in a parking lot outside his store to display his wares on a “fairness” basis with restaurants.
Restaurants near Greenwich Street operate on sidewalks and in “nodes” created within the Jersey Barriers from April through November. Restaurant fees were waived in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. In 2021 it was reduced to 25%. Restaurants this year can’t exceed four parking spaces and fees are 100%, which equates to an average of $23 per day.
Tori Lenzo, owner of Blankenship Dry Goods at 16 Greenwich Avenue, said restaurant owners and retailers should have the same rights.
Mr. Lenzo, who participated in a discussion of outdoor dining at P&Z via Zoom earlier in the week, said that originally when the pandemic swept, outdoor dining made sense as a way to keep restaurants afloat. But he noted that with the outbreak of the epidemic, the situation has changed.
“It’s become a deal with the city, for very little money, and they’re really expanding their space,” he said. “It’s an increase for their business and it has nothing to do with Covid because no one has a mask inside.”
Lenzo asked Selectmen to hold a vote to give the same right to retailers.
“Let every company have the same right – whether they allow outdoor space or not, I can’t understand why these restaurants have such extra space.”
Lenzo said he estimated that his sales would triple if he were allowed to use a parking space to sell his wares.
History of outdoor dining
Before the pandemic, First Selectman Fred Camillo said, Selectmen was already considering outdoor dining as a way to enhance the experience in the central Greenwich Avenue area.
At that time there were dozens of empty storefronts on the street.
“People seem to like it,” Camilo said.
“If everyone wanted to go out, there would be no parking space,” Camilo said, referring to the retailers. “If you wanted me to say, ‘Get out of the outdoors now,’ that would probably fail with a 9-10 percent chance. I’m sure of that.”
“I wouldn’t support a retreat from outdoor dining,” Camilo said.
Mr. Lenzo said that was not his request.
He said his request was to give outdoor parking spaces to contract retailers, just like restaurants.
“I consider it inequality,” said Lenzo. “It is a matter of the government dictating to company A what it is allowed to do, and business B not.”
There has been some debate about whether retailers are allowed to display merchandise on the sidewalk, and Mr. Lenzo said police responded quickly when he displayed merchandise at his door.
Ms. chosen one, Lauren Rabin, said she understood the issue of equality.
“Parking is a decades-old issue,” Rabin said. “There is a concept of what people who walk, what people who ride bikes need, and Complete Streets – as we think about what we want Greenwich Ave to be part of a broader discussion and parking is its focus.”
Is it time for tiered parking downtown?
Mr. Lenzo suggested adding a graded car park on Greenwich Ave.
“Do we have an appetite now for parking buildings that we haven’t had in years?” asked Mrs. Rabin. “Do we have an appetite for cool street lights at intersections? It is worth revisiting in a strategic way rather than on an individual order.”
Mr Camilo said there were efforts to prevent merchants and staff from feeding the counters on Greenwich Street. He noted 12 new parking spaces near Greenwich Ave as part of intersection improvement projects, and 200 in 12-lot municipal lots available around the clock under a permit for Greenwich Street residents and merchants.
He said that residents have in the past rejected the idea of parking garages, but agreed that it could be done tastefully, especially if it’s built into the existing row. He noted that this was done in the city hall.
“We have an idea about building on or under the classroom by the Board of Education (Havemeyer Building at 290 Greenwich Ave). Where the baseball field is, you can probably get a lot of space there, and it’s right there next to Greenwich Street,” Camilo said.
But he said, “I don’t think there’s an appetite for autonomous parking. We had that conversation 20 years ago at RTM and people were very much against it. I don’t blame them.”
Controls for displaying goods on sidewalks and streets
P&Z committee chair Margarita Alban said the executive orders went beyond local zoning, and there was flexibility for retailers to display merchandise on sidewalks. But the executive orders have expired.
Today, retailers are not allowed to display goods either on the street or on the sidewalks, except for the annual sale days dedicated to the sidewalks, which take place until Sunday.
“We don’t allow retailers to take to the street,” she continued. Zoning is not permitted for outdoor display of merchandise.
However, Alban said the selection board could approve the contract for retail use.
“We will then have to amend our zoning regulations to allow retailers to place their merchandise on the contract that you agreed to,” she explained.
Alban noted that the Selectmen have “control over what happens on the streets” and if Selectmen had to vote to agree that retailers would have a contract, P&Z would continue to do so.
“The way you ate outdoors, you have to agree to the contracts on the street,” Alban said. “Then we (P&Z) for example do how many tables you can get and how to get permission and meet the fire code.”
P&Z Director Katie DeLuca explained that Chamber of Commerce pier sales days, in accordance with the city charter, are handled through the Greenwich Police Department.
“We do not permit any display of retail merchandise on city sidewalks, outside of what is stipulated in the sidewalk sales charter,” DeLuca said.
“The reason we don’t have[retail goods on the sidewalks]is because if you look at the statement of purpose in most of our business district regulations related to retail, it’s about ‘regulated display,’ and when you have things outside on display, there are ADA issues and impact issues. Optical,” DeLuca said.
“I think Mr Lenzo’s view is that there is a problem with the stocks,” DeLuca continued. “From a zoning standpoint, all restaurants in the area are allowed to eat outdoors as long as they meet the standards.”
She said a requirement from one retailer should apply to all retailers.
Ms. Alban said that during the outdoor dining workshop on Tuesday night, there were voices very concerned about the tightness of the avenue parking lot. She said 16% of parking spaces on Greenwich Street are currently designated to hold outdoor dining.
Mr. Camilo said the issue merited further discussion.
Although no vote was taken, Mr. Camilo offered to visit Mr. Lenzo’s shop in person.
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