Earlier today, I ended my story on the move of Dragone Classic Motorcars from Post Road West to Orange by suggesting the 11,000-square foot property might be the site of a medical marijuana dispensary.
Some readers took me seriously.
I was kidding! It’s directly opposite Kings Highway Elementary School. You’d have to be smoking some heavy stuff to believe that would fly in this town.
But here’s something to consider.
Word around town — from reliable sources — is that a developer has closed on the former classic car showroom. He’s got his eye on the property next door too — where Villa del Sol planned to move.
Why? He wants to build 8-30(g) affordable housing there.
As in, 150 or more 2-bedroom apartments.
The former Dragone property and its neighbor, on Post Road West.
There’s already a plan in the works for the other side of Post Road West — the former “blighted homes” site on the crest of the hill heading downtown. That’s on the Planning and Zoning Commission agenda, for 81 8-30(g) units.
For a while, most Westport zoning battles have been waged on the other side of the river.
36 Elm Street was demolished yesterday. The building — most recently Villa del Sol — housed many previous businesses, including for a number of years Werner’s restaurant. It’s owned by David Waldman, who will build a retail/residential complex across the street behind Lux Bond & Green, in exchange for expanded parking next to Bedford Square. (Photo/Jen Berniker)
The interior of Villa del Sol, as seen from the outside steps.
The popular downtown restaurant is moving to 170 Post Road West. The former site of Peachwave has been vacant for over 2 years.
David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square — is purchasing the Mexican restaurant, adjacent to his new complex. It’s part of a land swap. He’ll demolish the old Villa del Sol. In return, he’ll construct a retail/residential building across Elm Street, behind Lux Bond & Green.
The old Villa del Sol on Elm Street. On the left is the new Bedford Square. The restaurant will be demolished, and used for parking.
This morning’s “06880,” on the travails of Villa Del Sol during the construction phase of Bedford Square, noted that “a proposed land swap — exchanging the restaurant and adjacent parking lot for a parcel across the street — has been scuttled.”
However, despite reports in local media, that land swap is still very much alive.
Second Selectman Avi Kaner said this afternoon that the town has continued negotiations with David Waldman, developer of Bedford Square. That retail/residential project — on the site of the former YMCA — stretches along Church Street, with an entrance on Elm Street.
Kaner says the town and Waldman are close to an agreement on a deal. Details are unavailable. However, the original plan would have traded 36 Elm Street — the site of Villa del Sol — for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot across the street. Waldman hoped to build an 8,477-square foot building behind Lux Bond & Green, with small retail stores and 4 apartments.
Under the original plan the town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking, walkways and greenery.
A view of the original land swap looking south. Villa del Sol is the building outlined in yellow at the top. Brooks Corner shopping center is at bottom center. A new building would be built in the outlined lower yellow section.
Kaner presented a status report at a Board of Finance executive session last week, and solicited negotiating advice.
Based on that discussion, he says, it is likely that the Elm Street/Baldwin lot land exchange will be discussed and voted on in an open public session, at the finance board’s April meeting.
Any decision would be subject to approval by other town bodies. The Planning & Zoning Commission has already given the swap a positive 8-24 review.
In this artist’s rendering, the new parking lot (old 36 Elm Street) is at left. Across Elm Street is the new building (white), with Serena & Lily next to it.
Bedford Square — the project to turn the old YMCA into a retail/residential/ restaurant complex — was just beginning. Rumors swirled that the popular downtown restaurant would close.
It didn’t. And — for almost 2 years — owners Jennifer and Colleen Osorio have battled construction debris, dust, dirt, noise, parking issues, even lack of access to part of their own building, while serving the margaritas, classic Mexican dishes and contemporary Nuevo Latino ones their customers love.
Colleen and Jennifer Osorio, inside Villa del Sol.
But now there are new rumors. People think that because a proposed land swap — exchanging the restaurant and adjacent parking lot for a parcel across the street — has been scuttled, the restaurant is shutting down.
It’s not. And — with 9 years left on a 10-year lease — Jennifer and Colleen say it won’t.
Yet getting the word out has been tough.
At least once a night, someone asks the sisters if it’s true. So in addition to all the work that goes with being a family-owned businesses — one of the very few left downtown — they have to fight the perception that they’re closing their doors.
Villa Del Sol, on Elm Street across from Serena & Lilly.
Villa del Sol is quite a place. All the furnishings — tables, chairs, artwork — come direct from Mexico. Founder Joe Osorio made many trips south, bringing everything back piece by piece.
Joe’s daughters — Jennifer and Colleen — were always involved in the restaurant. He fought pancreatic cancer for 2 years, and worked until just 3 days before his death, in 2011. The 2 sisters then took over.
Their children all help out now too. A few days ago Jon Osorio was working, on a break from college. Jennifer’s husband, Fili Molina, has been the chef since opening day.
Villa del Sol is part of the community. The restaurant donates food to local churches; participates in downtown and police events, and gives discounts to Staples students.
Jennifer and Colleen say that Bedford Square developer David Waldman — who does not own the restaurant building — has been understanding about their plight.
But, they say, their customers should not have to worry about where they’ll get their margaritas. Nor should the owners always have to explain, We’re open!
They’ve made it through the ups and downs of an uncertain economy. This is one more challenge.
Bedford Square opens this spring. They look forward to the traffic it will bring downtown.
“There have been a lot of great changes here,” Jennifer says. “But we’ve lost a lot of family businesses.
“We just want everyone to know this one is still here.”
As reported in March on “06880,” 36 Elm Street is the final key to creating an entirely new downtown streetscape. That’s where the Villa del Sol restaurant intrudes into the sidewalk next to the new Bedford Square retail/residential complex. And where an adjacent parking lot — near the back entrance to the old Y and the former Klein’s — is a poorly configured, hard-to-navigate, chaotic mess.
David Waldman — the Bedford Square developer — has spent months pursuing a land swap. He hopes to buy 36 Elm Street, then trade it for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot across the street. Waldman would build an 8,477-square foot building behind Lux Bond & Green.
Villa del Sol would reopen there, alongside 3 small retail stores. Small retail stores would open there. Above them would be 4 apartments — 1 of them rented under state “affordable” guidelines.
The town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking, walkways and greenery. Waldman says that despite taking Baldwin spots for the new building, the town would net a gain of 2 parking spaces in the new lot.
None of this is new news. But Waldman has just created a web site that shows — visually — exactly what the move would look like. Here’s the view looking south, with the Brooks Corner shopping center at bottom center.
Here’s another view. Brooks Corner — is at left, with Serena & Lily behind it:
Here’s an artist’s rendering. The new parking lot (old 36 Elm Street) is at left; across Elm Street is the new building (white), with Serena & Lily next to it.
For more information on the proposed 36 Elm Street swap, click here.
Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!
The popular, family-oriented Mexican spot now shares Elm Street with dust and construction vehicles. When Bedford Square is completed, it will be a boon to the area — and Villa del Sol will benefit.
But it won’t be easy getting there.
The restaurant opened in 1998. While not as long as a previous place — Werner’s — 17 years is still “forever” in restaurant terms.
Owner Joe Osorio emigrated from Mexico at age 23. His background was in engineering, but in the US he entered the restaurant business. He had his own place in Rockland County for a couple of decades.
There were originally 2 Villa del Sols, but the one in New Haven was closed, due to eminent domain. (A school took its place.)
Westport’s Villa del Sol is quite a place. All the furnishings — tables, chairs, artwork — come direct from Mexico. Joe made many trips south, bringing it all back piece by piece.
Joe’s daughters — Jennifer and Colleen — were always involved in the restaurant. He fought pancreatic cancer for 2 years, and worked until just 3 days before his death, in 2011. The daughters then took over.
Their children all help out now too. Jennifer’s husband, Fili Molina, has been the chef since opening day.
Colleen and Jennifer Osorio. Their father brought all the furnishings from Mexico by hand.
The customers are like family too. “They’ve been coming for years,” Jennifer says. “Before they sit down, their drink is front of them.”
The crowd includes plenty of families. Kids and adults alike love the menu — a combination of classic Mexican dishes, and contemporary Nuevo Latino ones.
“We’ve watched everyone grow up,” Colleen says. “And we’ll keep doing it, for years to come.”
Despite the noise, the debris, and the incorrect rumor that Villa del Sol will close.
See you there soon. Hey, Cinco de Mayo is Tuesday!
But when no one was looking, Señor Salsa snuck up on us.
The Westport outpost of the Fairfield-based Mexican grill just opened on Post Road West, at the corner of Sylvan Road South.
For years, that was the site of Connolly’s. During its long vacancy, there were rumors that Señor Salsa was coming in. Finally — long after everyone forgot — it’s happened.
The menu features burritos, tacos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas and more. It seems on the Qdoba end of the scale — perhaps Cuatros Hermanos — rather than Bartaco or Villa del Sol, both of which are quite different from each other.
And then there’s Viva’s, which has been here since (it seems) Emiliano Zapata himself was alive.
But Westport’s restaurant scene is a big tent.
¡Bienvenidos, Señor Salsa!
(Photos by — and a hat tip to — alert and hungry “06880” reader Lisa Shufro.)
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thanks!)