Wine bar OK'd for Railroad Place, but Energy Kitchen short-circuited

The Planning and Zoning Commission has approved an application to open a wine bar on Railroad Place, but held off Thursday voting on a proposal to open an "Energy Kitchen" restaurant in a Post Road East shopping center.

Saugatuck Grain and Grape won the P&Z's backing to open the wine bar at 40 Railroad Place, where the applicant now has a liquor store.

P&Z Director Laurence Bradley said the wine bar, which would open in 840 square feet of space, needed a waiver of three required parking spaces and wanted "shared parking" for two spaces. He said the hours of operation of the wine bar would be "distinctly different" from nearby retail stores and that 31 total parking spaces are available onsite.

But Bradley advised that signs restricting parking spaces to retail tenants be offset by a sign that says spaces off Franklin Street are available to the wine bar after 6 p.m.

The property where the wine bar will open is owned by Hanes Realty Corp., which lists Charlene Girden of Soundview Drive as president and director, according to the Secretary of the State's website.

Regarding the Energy Kitche applicatioon, Mel Barr, who represented owners of the Playhouse Square Shopping Center, said the New York-based restaurant chain wants to open its first Connecticut restaurant in Westport. The proposed site is 2,031 square feet in the 295 Post Road East shopping center, but is nine parking spaces short of the required number under town zoning regulations. Barr wanted the P&Z to allow "shared parking" of nine spaces in the shopping center, which he said has a total of 159 parking spaces.

Other tenants in the shopping center are mostly retail stores that operate during the day, Barr said. "The impression I get is parking is clearly available, due to existing tenants, in the evening hours. The proposed restaurant does most of its business in the evening and nighttime hours," he said.

Barr said he did a survey of the shopping center during lunch hours over 14 days and found from 11 to 58 available parking spaces, with the average of available spaces at 27. "There are clearly nine parking spaces to share in the lunchtime hour," he said to commission members.

"It's my conclusion there's no substantial conflict between the hours of operation of this restaurant proposal and the hours of operation of other tenants in the shopping center," he said.

P&Z member Chip Stephens asked Barr if he'd done a traffic study, noting the area has a lot of traffic. Barr, however, said the regulations do not require such a study for "a project of this scale."

"The amount of traffic when the shopping center was fully occupied has been known for decades. I'm hard-pressed to find how our restaurant is changing anything," he said, adding that 2,031 square feet in a 38,000-square-foot shopping center would be "a small piece of the pie."

But don't say "pie" to owners of Energy Kitchen. The restaurant chain, which has 11 locations in New York, two in Florida and two in New Jersey, advertises everything on the menu as grilled, baked or steamed, and all offering are under 500 calories. The chain plans to open a 12th restaurant in New York and a restaurant in Washington, D.C., as well, according to its website.

Energy Kitchen's menu features smoothies, salads, wraps, burgers and entrees, including chicken breasts, turkey meatloaf and grilled salmon, and sides that include baked fries, brown rice, creamed spinach, mashed sweet potatoes, and corn-and-edamame salad, according to the website.

The 295 Post Road E. shopping center is owned by a limited liability company that lists another LLC as its principal. The principal of the second LLC is Helen Nitkin of Greenwich, according to the Secretary of the State's website.