Tag Archives: Westport Planning and Zoning Department

P&Z, Town Provide Detailed Info Re Restaurant, Retail Reopening

On the eve of the first day of reopened restaurants, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Department has released extensive guidelines — and an application form (click here) for restaurants and businesses hoping to be up and running soon.

Town officials promise to expedite applications from restaurants and retail outlets. No business — including restaurants that offered outdoor dining prior to COVID-19 — can reopen until the form is completed and approved.

Outdoor dining guidelines — in the form of Frequently Asked Questions — were prepared by P&Z Commission chair Danielle Dobin, with feedback from the town attorney’s office, Westport Weston Health District, Police and Fire Departments, and the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team.

They are clear, comprehensive, and cognizant of the needs of owners, employees, patrons and residents. They say:

What’s the process for seeking approval for outdoor dining?

Complete the Outdoor Dining Application (llink above), then
submit to PandZ@westportct.gov, attn.: Mary Young, Planning & Zoning
director, who will circulate to other Town Departments, as applicable. There are
no fees for this application.

Do I need to hire an architect or engineer?

There is no need to hire any outside consultants. The application is very simple. You can use a drawing made by hand, old plans or even a printout from Google
Maps to indicate where you would like to locate your outdoor dining area. Please
indicate dimensions of the outdoor area proposed, size of any tents proposed, etc.

Sherwood Diner prepares for outdoor dining. (Photo/Dan Woog)

What’s the timeline?

Once your application is determined to be complete by the Zoning Office, you will receive a response informing you that your application has been approved,
amended or denied within 10 business days. If you do not receive a response
within 10 days then your application is deemed approved.

Can I appeal if denied?

Yes. You may appeal to the Planning & Zoning Commission which will discuss
your appeal at its next scheduled meeting.

Do I have to apply even if I already have an approved outdoor dining area from the town?

Yes. Even if you already have an approved outdoor patio, you must complete the
application to ensure the patio meets current state and local requirements.

Where can I put the outdoor dining area?

The outdoor dining can be located anywhere that meets fire, police and health
requirements. This means it can potentially go in your parking lot or even in the
parking lot of a nearby or adjacent building, as long as the owner of that property
agrees. It can even potentially be located within the setbacks as long as you are
sensitive to neighboring uses, especially any residential uses adjacent or nearby.
Your proposed plan will be carefully and quickly reviewed by the Zoning Office.

If I put the outdoor dining in my parking lot, where will people park?

If you intend to use part or all of your parking lot for outdoor dining, you must
ensure there is parking nearby for both patrons and your employees. Please
include this information in your application.

Can I create a combined outdoor eating area with some other restaurants in my same building or area?

Yes. Please feel free to collaborate on a plan with your neighboring restaurants.

What if there is a town-owned lot, park or street nearby that would be helpful for me to utilize for outdoor dining? Can I request that a street be closed?

Yes. You can request permission to utilize town owned property on the
application, including sidewalks, streets, parks and parking lots. These requests
will be evaluated by the local Traffic Authority, and police and fire
departments. As this process may take longer than 10 days, consider making this
an alternative request. You are not limited to making one request.

The owners of Harvest, Tarantino’s and Romanacci Xpress met last week, to discuss the best use of Railroad Place.

Am I required to build a platform for the outdoor dining tables to sit on?
No. There is no requirement to build a platform as long as your seating meets
ADA requirements.

Am I required to provide a tent, awning or umbrellas or can the outdoor dining be uncovered?
There is no requirement to provide covered outdoor dining. The outdoor dining
can be open to the air.

Do I need any state approvals to open?
Yes. You must self-certify with the state before opening and before the Zoning
Office may approve your application. Here is the link for the application.

How big of a dining area am I permitted to create? Is it the physical size of
the area or occupancy that matters or both?

You can potentially serve up to 50% of the number of patrons typically
accommodated at your restaurant pre-COVID. However, all state and local social
distancing rules must be observed, and the police, fire and health departments must approve of the outdoor dining area’s size, configuration and location.

How far apart must tables be located?
Seating and tables must be arranged to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between customers. You must ensure tables are at least 6+ feet apart. If customers are sitting in booths or seating is fixed, groups of customers must still be 6+ feet apart. This may require keeping some booths or seats empty. Distance shall be measured from the closest chair at one table to the closest chair at another table.

The state of Connecticut has provided these instructions for restaurants that hope to reopen.

Where should hand washing or sanitizing stations be set up? What should be provided?
Hand sanitizer shall be made available at entrance points and common areas.

Can patrons utilize the bathrooms inside my restaurant?
Yes. However, they must put their mask on before leaving the table. Management should keep in mind there is a requirement to install visual social distancing markers to encourage customers to remain 6 feet apart (e.g., the entrance to the restaurant, lines to be seated, lines to make payments, lines to use the restroom).

Are patrons required to wear masks when they are not eating/drinking?
Customers are required to bring and wear masks or cloth face coverings that
completely cover the nose and mouth, unless doing so would be contrary to his or her health or safety due to a medical condition or when eating in the restaurant. The masks should also be worn while entering and/or leaving the facility, or leaving the table to use the restroom.

Are staff required to wear masks at all times?
Yes. All employees are required to wear a facemask or other cloth face covering
that completely covers the nose and mouth, unless doing so would be contrary to
his or her health or safety due to medical conditions. Employees may utilize their
own cloth face covering instead of that provided by their employer if they choose.
Additionally, gloves are required for table servers, and they must be replaced
frequently. Gloves and eye protection are required when using cleaning chemicals. Kitchen workers shall follow FDA guidelines on use of gloves where appropriate.

If a patron isn’t complying with health standards, such as not wearing a mask or standing too close to a different table, how should we handle this?
We are all in this together! The complainant should ask to speak to the manager or establishment owner on-site who should immediately ask the patron to comply with the safety protocols or leave. If compliance is not obtained, restaurant patrons, employees, and/or owners can contact the Westport Police non-emergency line to report any issue (203-341-6000).

Are restaurants required to seat only parties with reservations? Are
restaurants required to keep a log of everyone for potential contact tracing?

It is strongly recommended that you require patrons to reserve tables in advance to assist with any necessary contact tracing and to minimize having people waiting for tables. In the event a patron or employee becomes ill, contact tracing will be facilitated by strong record keeping. It is recommended that you keep a log of all walk-in customers for this reason as well.

Can restaurants create a designated waiting area?
No. Restaurant should take the contact information of people waiting to eat and
should call or text the patrons when their table is ready. You may not designate a
waiting area, and your staff should actively discourage patrons from waiting at the restaurant to be seated.

How frequently must the bathrooms be sanitized and is there a
recommended sanitizing solution or product?

Bathrooms should be cleaned frequently, implementing use of a cleaning log for
tracking. Sanitizing solutions and/or products need to follow federal guidelines (CDC, EPA) on what specific products to use and how:
• Use products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2 and that
are appropriate for the surface. Prior to wiping the surface, allow the
disinfectant to sit for the necessary contact time recommended by the
manufacturer. Train staff on proper cleaning procedures to ensure safe and
correct application of disinfectants.
• Disinfectants are irritants and sensitizers, and they should be used
• Avoid all food contact surfaces when using disinfectants; these surfaces
should be sanitized instead.
• Clean and disinfect common areas, high transit areas, and frequently touched
surfaces on an ongoing basis (at least daily) and more frequently if used
more often. Clean and disinfect shared objects after each use including but
not limited to: entrances and exits, payment devices (e.g., PIN pad)
and chairs.
For more details regarding the Governor’s Re-Open Connecticut
standards, click here.

(For direct links on the town’s official P&Z page, click here.)

Chabad Lubavitch Makes An Unorthodox Move

After more than a century as a restaurant — and with parts of the building dating back over 200 years, to its days as a stagecoach stop — the former 3 Bears will turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue.

Or not.

A January 23 Norwalk Hour story said that the 9,180-square foot property, on 2.73 acres at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike, was “poised to change hands and become the new home of Chabad Lubavitch of Westport.”

The Three Bears was a famed restaurant/inn — with 6 fireplaces — from 1900 until February 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site.

The Three Bears, after abandonment.

According to the Hour, John Zervos of DVB Commercial Realty said that Chabad — an Orthodox sect based in Brooklyn, and by some estimates the largest Jewish organization in the world — was “not planning on changing the outside, and the inside works really well for them with the big open spaces of the dining rooms.”

The Hour paraphrased Zervos as saying that while the group had already moved their offices into the new space, they had not yet applied for permits with town officials “to use the space as a religious institution in order to officially close the deal.” (They appear to be leasing, not buying, the building.)

The Three Bears, in its heyday. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

The story noted that Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department received a complaint on January 4 from a neighbor “regarding activity taking place at the former restaurant.” A January 11 inspection revealed work being done on the premises without permits.

A letter sent January 13 cited violations of zoning regulations, said P&Z director Laurence Bradley. Chabad’s attorney requested a 30-day abeyance for more time to submit paperwork. It was granted, giving the group until February 23 to file its application.

Bradley noted, “they have been working and doing things without a permit. It’s been a restaurant since probably before there was zoning, so if they want it to become a synagogue, they will have to go through an extensive review and public hearings.”

Chabad attorney Ken Gruder told the Hour that the space will be used for an outreach group that includes prayer services, educational programs and religious discussions.

“It’s not a synagogue in the traditional sense, it’s so much more,” Gruder added.

But the story does not end there, with applications simply pending.

Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from a longtime Westporter. Attached was a letter the resident sent a day earlier to Bradley.

The interior of the Three Bears, also from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

It said: “Without proper permits for use of the premises as an office or house of worship, the group appears to already be working in the building, often at night, although the nature of their activities are unclear.” Apparently, there are 6 to 10 cars there each night.

The resident added that an “extremely bright outdoor security light in the parking area” was infringing on neighbors.

The writer expressed concern about traffic, parking and wetland impacts, and noted that the building — currently enjoying a “pre-existing approval for non-conforming use as a restaurant in a residential area” — would need a new P&Z approval process for any change of use.

One more concern: exterior alterations to historic building.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-94), famed Chabad leader.

In the email to me, the resident added more information: Several years ago Chabad was embroiled in a lawsuit in Litchfield, over proposed renovations that would turn a Victorian house in the town’s 1st synagogue. At one point, according to the Register-Citizen newspaper, Chabad filed suit against the town in federal court, alleging anti-Hasidic prejudice.

Right now, Chabad occupies a house on Kings Highway North that faces the medical complex.

Will they apply for permits by February 23? Will there be hearings — and if so, how contentious will they be?

Will Chabad move a mile or so up Wilton Road? Will the site of what was once Westport’s oldest restaurant become our town’s newest synagogue-or-something-like-it?

And why — despite a story last month in a Norwalk paper — is no one talking about this in Westport?