From Dock and Dine to Smoke on the Water
The Dock and Dine restaurant at Saybrook Point, battered by storms Sandy and Irene, was dismantled in 2014. While rebuilding has been a challenge in the flood zone, a new proposal would site a trailer-based outdoor restaurant on the site. Harbor News file photo)
Smoke on the Water, a proposed outdoor trailer-based restaurant on the site of the former Dock and Dine at Saybrook Point, has progressed one small step toward actualization, now that Old Saybrook’s Planning Commission (PC) has recommended to the Zoning Commission (ZC) that it approve amendments to the town’s zoning regulations.
At its March 3 meeting, the PC voted to address only the proposed regulation text changes. This was one of two issues before it with regard to the project proposed by The Point, LLC, a partnership of Jon Kodama—whose business, JTK Management Restaurants, owns the Dock and Dine property—and Colt Taylor, executive chef and owner of The Essex, a restaurant in Centerbrook.
The second agenda item was The Point, LLC’s application for a special exception that would allow an outdoor restaurant to operate a maximum of 180 days per year, using trailers for everything from salad preparation to restrooms. This was tabled for the PC’s next meeting on Wednesday, March 17, as the special exception application had not yet been submitted to the town, according to Zoning Enforcement Officer Chris Costa.
In addressing both issues, the PC is to determine whether the proposal comports with the town’s 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development. The vote to recommend the zoning regulation text changes to the ZC was 4 to 0, with one abstention.
The Point, LLC was represented at the PC meeting as well as the ZC’s March 1 meeting by local attorney Edward Cassella.
Destruction and Rebuilding
Dock and Dine was severely damaged and rendered inoperable after being battered by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and, 14 months later, by Superstorm Sandy. Plans were submitted to rebuild, and the ZC approved a special exception permit in December 2013. But new FEMA flood regulations necessitated raising the base of the building 15 feet plus one additional foot above the waterline; in this location, that meant raising the restaurant 12 feet above ground. The submitted plans included engineered pilings for this purpose, but the structure was never built.
In an interview with Harbor News, Costa explained that the area has been designated by FEMA as a VE zone, meaning that not only is it in danger of flooding, but that an anticipated surge of waves presents an additional hazard.
“In a VE zone, FEMA requires the construction of any structure, whether residential or commercial, to be built to withstand wave action,” she said. For any area of the building that is “below the floodplain, the walls are supposed to break away so the water doesn’t compromise the structure.”
In 2015, Kodama filed a request for a variance to allow for the building of staircases and an elevator shaft that would not be subject to these requirements. Ultimately, however, a new restaurant was not constructed, presumably because the restrictions proved onerous.
“[T]he reason that we’re asking [for] a regulation change to allow for outdoor restaurant is because of the implementation of the flood regulations over these properties has a pretty drastic effect on what everybody wants, which is rebuilding Dock and Dine,” Casella explained to the PC on March 3.
Requested Regulation Changes
The Point, LLC, has proposed that a new definition of outdoor restaurants be added to Section 9 of the town’s zoning regulations, describing them as selling “food for consumption on the premises” and providing food service to customers, although Smoke on the Water would also provide food for takeout. That takeout service, as defined in the special standards Section 53, which also has proposed changes, would be allowed as long as it was incidental to the primary business of the restaurant.
Section 53 also states that the designation “outdoor restaurant” would be permitted “when such property is located on Long Island Sound or the Connecticut River.”
If the proposed changes are permitted by the ZC, the only place in Saybrook where outdoor restaurants would be allowed would be the SP-2 District, Cassella explained at the PC meeting.
A proposed change to Section 66 of the zoning regulations adds specifications for the allowed use of “temporary non-residential restaurant trailer[s],” which would be allowed at outdoor restaurants located on private property, would have wheels and would be used for “storage, restaurant facilities, and/or food preparation.” These trailers would be located on the lot for “fewer than 180 days in any calendar year, including time for installation, set-up, and breakdown.”
As the area is a flood zone, the use of the trailers would be subject to a storm contingency plan subject to Chapter 128 of the town code.
The Point, LLC’s “emergency management plan for evacuation” is “currently under review with not only the town engineer, but also Chief [Michael A.] Spera and the first selectman,” Carl P. Fortuna, Jr., Cassella said.
At press time, the ZC had received at least 16 letters from residents expressing concerns about anticipated noise, smoke, odors, litter, and light, as well as the impact on those wishing to use the area for other purposes. Similar qualms and questions were raised at the ZC meeting on March 1.
Director of Economic Development Susie Beckman spoke at both the PC and ZC meetings in favor of Smoke on the Water. Having contributed to the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, she said that the venture furthers its goals of establishing open-air markets, extending the tourist season, and promoting vibrant living.
In addition to the special exception permit, The Point, LLC, will seek to amend the Chapter 128 of the town’s code, which pertains to floodplain management, as it does not allow for restaurant trailers. This would have to be approved at a town meeting, Costa explained.
“In my 20 years with the town, we’ve never had an applicant petition to amend Chapter 128, the floodplain ordinance,” she said. “Typically, the floodplain ordinance is amended through FEMA updates or amendments proposed by staff [to impose] a higher standard that’s required by FEMA” or to clarify the language of the legislation.