Easing of liquor permit process reviewed in Westport
Updated 3:09 pm, Friday, July 15, 2011
Continuing its campaign to boost Westport's culinary community, the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday begins its review of a new text amendment that would loosen liquor permit regulations.
Under the proposed Text Amendment 635, new dining establishments that plan to serve liquor would no longer need to obtain a special permit from the P&Z to supplement the permits that they receive from the state Department of Consumer Protection.
The amendment would also streamline the permitting process for existing restaurants and bars. The town's zoning regulations now stipulate that these establishments secure special permit approval again from the P&Z when they renew their state permits.
No establishment, however, has had to go through this process, because the town's zoning rules also allow the Planning and Zoning director, Larry Bradley, to waive this provision after consulting with the police chief. Bradley said he has waived the special permit requirement for the handful of dining establishments that have renewed their state liquor permits since the town's current liquor permitting regulations went into effect last year.
Text Amendment 635 would eliminate this re-approval process, so dining establishments would need only to renew their state permits to continue serving liquor.
"It tries to make the town more business-friendly and to encourage more restaurants," Bradley said of the amendment.
Since last year, the P&Z has approved several text amendments designed to relax regulations for restaurants, with the intention of encouraging more evening activity in Westport. In May 2010, the commission passed Text Amendment 610, which simplified the approval process for installing outdoor dining on restaurant premises. Dining establishments now have only to secure a zoning permit for outdoor seating whereas a restaurant previously had to go through a hearing process before the P&Z ruled on such accommodations.
In July 2010, the commission approved Text Amendment 613, which eliminated a longstanding rule that mandated a 1,500-foot distance between dining establishments with patron bars. That amendment also eased restaurants' parking requirements. In March, the P&Z approved another amendment that allows dining establishments to have live music in outdoor eating areas.
Reaction to proposed Text Amendment 635 was mixed among several restaurateurs interviewed last week by the Westport News.
"If we go too far to increase the amount of restaurants that are allowed or the amount of liquor-serving establishments to be allowed, you have far more places for peoples to go to," said Jim Stablein, owner of Bogey's Grille and Tap Room on Main Street. "Where's the suffering going to be -- it's going to be the existing restaurants."
Peter Aitkin, owner of the Black Duck Cafe on Riverside Avenue in the town's Saugatuck section, had a similar viewpoint.
"I'm not looking to see another three or four restaurants in Saugatuck," he said. "I'm pretty happy with the way things are right now."
He added, however, that zoning regulations had not had a demonstrable impact on his business. Instead, he pointed to renovations done in 2008, and the Black Duck's appearance on the Food Network in 2009 as major events that had contributed to the cafe's success.
"We're doing better now than we were two years ago," he said. "We're definitely on an upswing at this point."
Other restaurant owners, however, welcomed the prospect of more dining establishments in Westport.
"The more the better, not everybody goes to the same place all the time," said Andre Iodice, owner of Finalmente Trattoria on Post Road East in downtown Westport. "The next time, instead of going there [another restaurant], they come here. It's always good to bring more people into the area."
Chris Navis, general manager of the Main Street restaurant, Tavern on Main, said he also supports the amendment, as well as the P&Z's general effort to foster a livelier evening scene in Westport. The looser outdoor dining regulations, he said, had allowed his restaurant to put in sidewalk seating two weeks ago on Main Street.
"We need more business down here; competition is good," he said. "You can have an Indian restaurant here, Japanese, Italian. That's really what we need. We need to bring more people down here."
The P&Z will begin its review of Text Amendment 635 at a public hearing scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Town Hall auditorium.