January 2, 2013

York Street neighbors to fight restaurant plan

They fear a second new eatery in the area will lead to disruptions like those tied to Popeye's.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - A proposed restaurant on York Street is making some West End residents nervous that parking problems and rowdiness may be coming back to their neighborhood.

click image to enlarge

The former site of Popeye’s Ice House, left, on the corner of Brackett and York streets in Portland, is being converted into a new restaurant. There is also a proposal to open a restaurant at the building next door, at 227 York St., which is a single-family residence.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

227 Restaurant Group is proposing what is described as a high-end restaurant at 227 York St. But the building -- a single-family home -- is next door to a 50-seat-plus restaurant currently under construction that is expected to open this spring.

Residents are concerned that another restaurant/bar will be too much, too soon, for the neighborhood, which was once disturbed by unruly, late-night crowds at the former Popeye's Ice House bar. That notorious tavern, which had the tail of an airplane sticking out of its roof, closed in 2008 after repeated clashes with neighbors.

"Neither I nor my neighbors want to reopen that hornets' nest," said Salem Street resident Jo Coyne.

Residents plan to speak before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday against a request to waive a requirement that the business provide off-street parking. Without the waiver, the restaurant would not be able to open there.

Restaurants in the neighborhood business zone are required to provide an off-street parking spot for every 150 square feet of public floor space, said city zoning specialist Ann Machado. Retail establishments, however, do not need to have off-street parking unless they are bigger than 2,000 square feet, she said.

The Zoning Board of Appeals first took up the request on Dec. 6, but the applicant was not present, so the board continued the hearing until Thursday night.

For the board to grant a variance, an applicant must show that without a variance, the property cannot yield a "reasonable return," meaning there is a practical loss of all beneficial use of land. "Reasonable return does not mean maximum return," according to the variance application.

The building at 227 York St., next door to the former Popeye's, is currently an occupied single-family residence. The restaurant is being proposed for the ground floor, essentially an unfinished basement with dirt floors.

There is only a 6-foot-wide driveway on the property, which is used by the residents. The applicants say there is no space for on-site parking, and the nearest public parking facility is one-third of a mile away.

Property manager Tom Landry said in a Dec. 21 variance application that rental income is not enough to rehabilitate the building, which dates to the 1860s and is "at a critical point" in terms of needing structural and mechanical repairs.

"Without this tenant who is willing to make a substantial investment and enter a long-term lease, there is no hope in the immediate future for this ground-floor space to be rented nor the building to be improved," Landry wrote.

In a letter to city planners, the lessees, Lauren and Neil Reiter of Brooklin, said the 840-square-foot restaurant would have 430 square feet of public space. They plan to convert a "vacant and desolate space" on the ground floor into a small fine-dining restaurant, requiring a substantial investment.

"As such, its impact on health, safety and welfare for the public is entirely positive," they wrote in their Nov. 19 letter.

But neighborhood residents disagree. They say parking in the area is already difficult, and waiving the off-street parking requirement would make it worse.

"There is just no parking," said Pam Shelton, a semi-retired registered nurse who lives in a condo next to the proposed restaurant. "There's less and less space and sense of community."

Shelton also was concerned about where the restaurant would keep its garbage bins, and how it would vent its kitchen and receive deliveries.

In 2008, the board waived the off-street parking requirements for a new restaurant that was proposed to replace Popeye's Ice House at 231 York St. That restaurant would have needed seven off-street parking spots without the city waiver.

The Reiters cited that previous approval in their application.

At the time, residents supported waiving the parking requirement for 231 York St. because they simply wanted to have a nicer establishment in the area, said Rosanne Graef, president of the West End Neighborhood Association.

"There was a feeling at that point that anything would be better than Popeye's," Graef said.

The opening of a new restaurant at 231 York St. has been slow going. The building was recently sold to Peter Verrill, who owns the Foreside Tavern in Falmouth, and it is expected to open this spring as Outlier Eatery, with about 50 seats.

Residents would like to see how the increased traffic and parking demand from that restaurant affect their neighborhood before granting other exceptions.

"It just doesn't seem to be a good spot for more waivers, especially since the one restaurant that's going in where Popeye's was hasn't even opened yet," said Graef, noting that parking on nearby streets is already restricted because of the width of the streets. "We don't even know what the impact of those waivers is," she said.

Like others, Shelton said she fears that increased commercial uses threatens the fabric of the West End neighborhood.

"This is a neighborhood," she said. "It should stay a neighborhood."

Neither the Reiters, who requested a two-year waiver since their construction plans were not finalized, nor Stella Hernandez, the co-owner of Bar Lola who is listed as the applicant's representative, could be reached for comment Monday.

 

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

 

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