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Outdoor seating would be a good thing for the area here putting more eyes on the street.
Well designed and operated public places are a great benefit to a neighborhood, and the Annex needs more uses that support public life.
Here's some food for thought:
Planners often refer to places like parks, streets, and restaurants as the "Third Place." Here are some good quotes/links.
Oldenburg identifies third places, or “great good places,” as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact. In contrast to first places (home) and second places (work), third places allow people to put aside their concerns and simply enjoy the company and conversation around them. Third places “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.” Oldenburg suggests that beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses, post offices, and other third places are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy. They promote social equality by leveling the status of guests, provide a setting for grassroots politics, create habits of public association, and offer psychological support to individuals and communities.
“In the absence of informal public life, living becomes more expensive. Where the means and facilities for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the objects of private ownership and consumption.”
"Of course, seating along sidewalks is also important outside of parks. When combined with food, you have a real winning combination."
Just a technical note: all approval is granted purely for "hardship". All applicants should attempt to demonstrate a hardship--as a matter of law, the BZA does not grant appeals based on personal characteristics, compliance with tax laws, or on trial basis. The law does not uphold those types of decisions.
Hardship is defined as follows:
"The applicant cannot realize a reasonable return, provided that lack of return is substantial as demonstrated by competent financial evidence;
That the alleged hardship relating to the property in question is unique, and does not apply to a substantial portion of the district or neighborhood;
That the requested use variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood; and
That the alleged hardship has not been self-created."
While a board member may disagree with the particular ordinance as it pertains to outdoor seating, it does not give that board member a license to vote against the ordinance. The ordinance--it's fairness and it's rightness--is decided not at the BZA, but at City Plan & the board of Aldermen. If you disagree with the ordinance, I encourage you to contact your Alder.
Interesting point, Brian. Would it be easier (and more cool-city-friendly) to have a default setting for outdoor seating, including specifications on how and where and how much, and then be stuck with making sure these conditions were enforced? Or is it better to approve it on a case by case basis? Are there certain zones where outdoor seating IS the default?
What I see in this story is cultural capital at work. Seems to me that if you know how to phrase your case for "hardship", (and you haven't already defied the BZA), you're golden. But if you don't know the right words to use, you can be stuck applying again and again, no matter the merits of your case.
Is there someone who could consult the Machu Picchu owners on how to most effectively state their case within the parameters of the BZA's current brief?
I saw your comment on that on NHI but that does not explain why all of the State Street businesses have been granted exceptions.
Baltimore is currently rewriting its entire zoning code to encourage walkability, enhance public health and create jobs. Factors like these are very important to creating a healthy, walkable and vibrant city.
New Haven should consider rewriting its code or looking at a specially targeted program of exceptions.
I agree Mark. This neighborhood will only get better if we create rules that favor the good guys.
When you have a restaurant in a neighborhood that is representative of its neighborhood culture and is frequented from those outside of the neighborhood it needs to be held up as a beacon and championed by the city. I wish those versed in "the rules of the game" had been there to provide assistance to these gentleman.
If Machu Picchu had outdoor seating I would eat there more often.
Outdoor seating is a component of this index. Perhaps a PEQI could be implemented in New Haven. The need for walkable community seems to be a top priority of every district.
Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index (PEQI)
To achieve walkable communities, planning professionals need practical tools to assess and mitigate the impact of transportation, land use and development decisions on the quality and safety of the pedestrian environment, and to prioritize improvements that will increase pedestrian activity.
http://www.sfphes.org/publications/PHES_2008_Annual_Report.pdf (page 12)
What's the point of enforcing a rule that everyone agrees is completely arcane and counter-productive? To me this is on par with the state utility commission denying Becker and Becker’s application to use electronic sub-metering or the state traffic commission denying the city's proposal to add bike lanes to Whitney Ave. There are matters far more important than examining the minutia of obsolete lines in the zoning code.
With all due respect, Streever, I disagree with your interpretation of the purpose of the BZA. That may be what the letter of the law says, but the most effective BZA’s are a forum for public review of plans. Requiring a certain width bike path at the SOM or providing variances as an incentive for indoor bike parking or eco-roof are all appropriate functions of the BZA; enforcing zoning code over the objection of the public consensus is not.
Tang, I appreciate the respect, but in this case it turns out I was completely wrong. I misunderstood the vote at the meeting, and have had it clarified for me by Tom Talbot.
I wish we'd had more discussion at the meeting--I would have voted differently.
It turns out that this did NOT require hardship--which would have changed my vote to a yes. I apologize for my inaccurate comments. Perhaps this should be looked into further by the community.
Still though, I do think you miss the boat, Tang--if the BZA voted on what they THOUGHT the law would be, then the laws would never change, and individuals & businesses would *always* be at the mercy of the BZA. The laws should change to reflect the desire of the citizens, and commissions should try at all times to fulfill the laws impartially. It is up to citizens to request the government they want to represent them. Commissions voting based on personal opinions and feelings would be a terrible direction for things to go in, and could easily be used to the wrong ends.
Jay, I have spent a lot of time at this restaurant and have always found it to be exceptionally clean and well-maintained. It is a good place to bring guests and I think the neighborhood would be less attractive without it.
Also, on several occasions, I've eaten at expensive restaurants in Manhattan where I saw large rats and roaches have literally jumped off the walls into my food. If you saw a mouse once, it does not indicate a problem. I'd venture that most buildings in the suburbs have a mouse run through them at least once per day.
Check out a mention of this issue on the HuffPost yesterday!
Jay, NYC has only 1 rat per 30 residents, according to a recent, best-selling book on the subject of urban rats. It's a common myth that there are more rats than residents.
I wasn't comparing, just defending Machu Picchu, which is a very clean and well-run establishment that has been in business for a long time, from your attack.
David, with all due respect-- considering that there was zero discussion on the matter, "Commissions voting based on personal opinions and feelings" appears to be exactly what happened in this case, with zero evidence to the contrary.
You are the only one who has publicly defended their vote even though now it appears it was based on an incorrect reading of the law, everyone else has remained silent.
While it's the purview of commissioners to not have to explain each and every vote, in this case there seems to be an overriding public interest to have the BZA explain their vote with a written explanation.
At risk of being a wet blanket, what is the point of this thread exactly? I mean, I agree with most of the sentiments here, but the BZA cannot reverse its decision because the public complains about it. If the only way to change the law is through the alders, wouldn't it be more productive to have a thread petitioning the alders to revisit the zoning law? This discussion is interesting, but if the aim is to fix the problem, it's not the best approach.
It seems to me that the applicants were probably not fully informed about what they needed to prove in order to get their approval. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Normally, I would say that it is not the city's job to tell applicants how file a successful appeal and I wouldn't want to see city staff hours spent telling developers how to present themselves to boards. But these aren't big-time developers -- just some some restaurant owners who, understandably, aren't well versed in the nuances of land-use law. Most small businesses don't have a bunch of lawyers at their disposal.
After reading the above, it also occurs to me that the commissioners themselves are probably also not that terribly well versed in zoning law. (It should be noted that they are volunteers, not that that excuses them.)
So, rather than complain about a decision we can't change, if we are going to petition the city to do anything, it should be:
1. To better inform first-time land-use applicants what their responsibilities are.
2. To better train its volunteers who sit on boards.
Regarding the first point, I'm sure that any applicant can make an appointment to discuss their case with the city plan staff before filing their application. When handing out the applications, why not include in the paperwork a note that says "It is recommended that you discuss your application with xxxx before filing." (I understand that this has to be worded carefully so as not to imply that people who meet with the city beforehand get preferential treatment. I'm sure there are also limits on what can be discussed once the application is "live", which is why it's important to convey all this before the process starts.)
I eat at Machu Pichu once in a while. I've never thought they needed to have outdoor seating. They should reassess the parking lot, and the exterior of that building before expanding out onto the street.
I'm hard pressed to find a comparable situation in our neighborhood. The Wagon Wheel doesn't seat on the sidewalk. Martin's utilizes a riverside patio, but they don't interfere with the open space/canoe launch that's adjacent to them. The Fireside is all inside, as far as I know. Farther up Grand Avenue, I have trouble thinking of another restaurant that's claiming outdoor space as part of the establishment.
That's a pretty tight lot, and I think the owners would do better to spruce up the building/parking lot, instead of expanding outward.
Love the food, and I encourage everyone to try it for themselves. The weekday lunch specials are a great value($6.95 for a massive meal), and represent the entire menu fairly well.
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