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Selectors discuss demand for outdoor retail ‘nodes’ in parking lots on Greenwich Ave

On Thursday, the Board of Selectmen discussed a retail owner’s request for a ‘node’ in a parking space outside his store to display his wares on an ‘equity’ basis with restaurants.

Restaurants near Greenwich Avenue operate both on sidewalks and in “nodes” created inside jersey barriers from April through November. Catering fees were waived in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. In 2021, they were reduced to 25%. This year, restaurants can’t exceed four parking spaces and the fee is 100%, averaging $23 per day.

Tory Lenzo, owner of Blankenship Dry Goods at 16 Greenwich Avenue, said restaurateurs and retailers should have the same rights.

Blankenship Dry Goods set up for the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce sidewalk sales. July 15, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

Mr Lenzo, who participated in P&Z’s outdoor dining discussion via Zoom earlier in the week, originally said that when the pandemic swept through, outdoor dining made sense as a way to keep restaurants afloat. But he noted that with the pandemic dissipating, the situation has changed.

“It’s become a transaction with the city, for little money, and they’re really expanding their space,” he said. “It’s a raise for their businesses and it has nothing to do with Covid because no one has a mask inside.”

Lenzo asked the Selectmen to vote to give retailers the same right.

“Let every business have the same right – whether or not you allow outdoor space, I don’t understand why these restaurants have these extra spaces.”

Lenzo said he estimated his sales would triple if he was allowed to use a parking space to sell his merchandise.

History of outdoor dining

First Selectman Fred Camillo said that before the pandemic, Selectmen were already considering outdoor dining as a way to enhance the experience in the central business district of Greenwich Avenue.

At the time, there were dozens of empty storefronts on the avenue.

“People seem to like it,” Camillo said.

“If everyone wanted to get out, there wouldn’t be any parking spaces,” Camillo said, referring to retailers. “If you want me to say, ‘Get rid of outdoor dining now,’ that would probably fail 90-10. I’m pretty sure on that one.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of removing outdoor dining,” Camillo said.

Mr. Lenzo said that was not his request.

He said his request was to give outdoor parking spots to retailers for nodes, just like restaurants.

“I view it as an inequality, a matter of government dictating to Company A what it is allowed to do and Company B is not,” Lenzo said.

There were discussions about whether retailers were allowed to display goods on the sidewalk, and Mr Lenzo said police responded quickly when he displayed goods outside his door.

Coach Lauren Rabin said she understood the issue of fairness.

“Parking is a decades-long problem,” Rabin said. “There’s the concept of what people need on foot, what people on bike need, Complete Streets – as we think about what we want Greenwich Ave to be is part of a larger discussion and the parking lot is in the center of it.”

Is it time for downtown multi level parking?

Mr. Lenzo suggested adding a multi-level car park in the Greenwich Ave area.

“Do we now crave parking structures that we didn’t have years ago? Ms. Rabin asked. “Do we want very tasteful lampposts at intersections? It is worth revisiting strategically rather than an individual request.

Mr Camillo said there were efforts to stop shopkeepers and employees from supplying meters on Greenwich Ave. He highlighted the 12 new parking spaces proposed near Greenwich Ave as part of the intersection improvement projects, and the 200 spaces in 12-municipal lots available by the hour by permit for residents and merchants. of Greenwich Ave.

He said that in the past, residents had balked at the idea of ​​parking garages, but agreed they could be done up tastefully, especially if they were integrated into the existing level. He specifies that this was done at the town hall.

“We have an idea to build in or below level by the Board of Education (the Havemeyer Building at 290 Greenwich Ave). Where the baseball field is, you can probably find a lot of space there, and it’s right off Greenwich Avenue,” Camillo said.

But, he says, “I don’t think there’s an appetite for stand-alone parking structures. We had this conversation 20 years ago at RTM and people were fiercely against them. I don’t blame them.

By-law concerning the posting of merchandise on sidewalks and in the street

P&Z Commission Chair Margarita Alban said during the pandemic, executive orders overruled local zoning and retailers had the ability to display merchandise on sidewalks. But the executive orders have expired.

Today, retailers are not allowed to display their wares on the street or on sidewalks, except during the annual sidewalk sale days, which run until Sunday.

“We don’t allow traders to take to the streets,” she continued. “It is not permitted by zoning to have an outdoor display of merchandise.”

That said, Alban said the Board of Selectmen could approve Nodes for retail use.

“We would then have to change our zoning regulations to allow retailers to put their merchandise in nodes that you approved,” she explained.

Alban noted that the Selectmen have “control of what happens on the streets” and if the Selectmen had to vote to approve retailers with nodes, P&Z would take care of that.

“Just like you did outdoor dining, you have to approve knots on the street,” Alban said. “Then we (P&Z) for example do how many tables you can have, how to get permission and how to comply with the fire code.”

P&Z manager Katie DeLuca explained that the Chamber of Commerce’s sidewalk sales days, in accordance with the city’s charter, are operated by the Greenwich Police Department.

“We don’t allow any display of retail products on city sidewalks, outside of what’s in the charter for sidewalk sales,” DeLuca said.

“The reason we don’t have (retail products on sidewalks) is if you look at the statement of purpose in most of our retail area regulations, it’s about “the orderly display,” and when you have things that are on the outside, there are ADA issues and visual impact issues,” DeLuca said.

“I think Mr. Lenzo’s point is that there is a fairness issue,” DeLuca continued. “From a zoning perspective, all restaurants in the zone are permitted to dine al fresco as long as they can meet the criteria.”

She said a request from one retailer should apply to all retailers.

Ms. Alban said that during the outdoor dining workshop on Tuesday evening, there were voices very concerned about the tight parking on the avenue. She said 16% of parking spaces on Greenwich Avenue are currently reserved for outdoor dining nodes.

Mr. Camillo said the issue merited further discussion.

Although no votes were taken, Mr. Camillo offered to visit Mr. Lenzo’s store in person.

The parking space in front of Blankenship Dry Goods is partially blocked by an outdoor catering node for La Taqueria and unusable.
Outdoor food node outside La Taqueria on Greenwich AVe.

See also:

P&Z Outdoor Restoration Workshop Comments: Unsightly, Unnecessary, Unfair
July 13, 2022

Glenville Pizza seeks permission from P&Z for temporary outdoor dining
July 11, 2022

Elected officials vote to return outdoor dining on April 15 and end the Monday before Thanksgiving
March 12, 2022

Deena S. Hawkins

The author Deena S. Hawkins