CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Planning Board has forwarded a positive recommendation to the Town Council to increase the number of seats allowed in restaurants within certain business zones from 80 to 100.

At its meeting last week, the board voted 5-1, with Vice Chairwoman Liza Quinn opposed, to support increasing the total seating in restaurants within the town’s Business A zones, which are located on portions of both Shore and Ocean House roads.

A handful of people spoke at the public hearing held on May 22, and Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said the issue resulted in her receiving the fewest number of letters she can remember on a proposed zoning change.

While the change in the Business A (BA) zone would benefit the Good Table restaurant on Ocean House Road, board member Carol Anne Jordan said the amendment to the zoning ordinance would be “available to all restaurants in the BA zone. (And), we should let go of the fact that the request (initially) came from one business.”

She also said that the board should take a macro and not a micro approach to the issue and discuss how the change in the number of seats allowed would affect the whole town, not just The Good Table.

Board member Peter Curry agreed.

“We have approached this issue very carefully and are looking at it as a whole district,” he said.

Henry Steinberg, another member of the board, argued that increasing the number of seats from 80 to 100 is a “slight modification” and “not a huge change.”

But Quinn said she was “very wary of changing an ordinance to assist one business. I feel we could leave ourselves open to (the criticism) that this is spot zoning.”

In addition, Quinn said, businesses and residents in town “need certainty, not constant change.”

She said the language of the BA zone was updated as recently as 2007 and questioned why the board was revisiting the seating cap when the town has yet to complete all the ordinance changes recommended by the most recent comprehensive plan.

In a memo sent to the Planning Board earlier this month, O’Meara said that the issue of increasing the number of seats for restaurants within the BA zone was not limited to The Good Table and whether it had exceeded the seat limit currently allowed.

She said the only question the board should look at is whether allowing a 100-seat restaurant “is generally consistent with a neighborhood business district.” The memo also said, “The board’s responsibility and role is to take a broader, long-term view of overall appropriate activities in the Business A district.”

Lisa Kostopoulos, who owns The Good Table with her father, Anthony, made a request to the town to increase the seating cap for restaurants in the BA district following notification by the code enforcement officer earlier this year that she was violating the ordinance by having more seats than are allowed.

Kostopoulos said that she could offer 100 seats without increasing the footprint of her restaurant, and her hope is that the Town Council will ultimately approve the amendment to the zoning ordinance.

The problem, she told the Current in a prior interview, is that The Good Table is now heading into its busiest season and with the seating cap, Kostopoulos cannot hire as many staff as she normally would, nor can she serve the same number of customers as usual.

During the public hearing on the question of increasing the seating from 80 to 100, resident Chris Straw spoke against upping the number of seats and argued that the goal of the BA zone is to “meet the needs of the adjacent neighborhood.”

But both Dan Bowen and Kate Stewart spoke in favor of the ordinance change and The Good Table.

“This makes good business sense for the tax base, out-of-town visitors and residents,” Stewart said. “The owners of The Good Table are valued members of the community and deserve the opportunity to be as successful as possible.”

If the Town Council does approve the ordinance change, any restaurant seeking to increase its seating would have to go through site plan review by the Planning Board before being allowed to have up to 100 seats.

Kostopoulos, who could not be reached before deadline, has said she is working on such a plan and hopes to get it approved by the board this summer.

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