Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Pizza Lesson

Da Legna Education from #NHV on Vimeo.

Recently a brand new pizza place opened on State Street.  It's called "Da Legna" (Duh Leg-Na).  That's how you say it.  After opening its doors for several months a local neighborhood association began distributing a letter.  It began:

"Please see talking points below that I’ve been asked to share with you.  State Street cannot handle parking for another full service restaurant. Beer and wine should remain, Full Liquor intensifies the burden on the street and should be denied."  

Da Legna responded:

"our application is not to seek 3 parking spaces where 12 are required. That was not stated in our application and was written by the zoning dept."

The letter seemed more damaging for the reputation for the restaurant than helpful for the neighborhood.  Facts were in question and the whole community was misinformed.  Rather than being embraced by the community, it was harshly scrutinized for what seemed like any reason, and SoHu did not distribute the response in the same way that it shared its own talking points.

The restaurant has responded with an interest in educating the community with participatory food creation, rather than to intensify the "full liquor" license application process.  Places like Miyas Sushi have allowed for groups to enter and learn the food creation experience.

Running a successful pizza place on State Street next to Modern Apizza is clearly a challenge, but a business has a right to open in New Haven and coexist with the neighbors that live in that area.  It doesn't help when the neighborhood is distributing a list of talking points which essentially point at reasons to complicate the business in such a way that could compromise its ability to exist.  Obviously, parking is an issue on State Street but that's assuming that everyone who visits the restaurant will arrive by car.  It may have been better to encourage neighbors to try out the new restaurant, but to get there on foot rather than drive.

After the snowstorm, it became clear in East Rock that more people were capable of walking places than was previously thought.  Which speaks volumes for a neighborhood with one of the highest densities of foot traffic outside of the greater New York City region.

Nhv.Org tends to stay on less controversial terms, but this was a topic of interest from which it seems there may be something to learn about society and the way that it functions.

For a Complete Look at The Entire Conversation, Read Below.

Original Email Thread Conversation from Neighborhood:

Hi folks,

It was just brought  to my attention that DeLegna’s has applied for a variance for 3 parking spaces where 12 are required.  In addition, they were granted a liquor permit prematurely because a variance was supposed to be received first.

The hearing is on Tuesday, February 12th at 6:30 in the Hall of Records 200 Orange St in the public hearing room (downstairs)  It has been suggested that the City is looking to pass this through very quickly because someone issued the liquor permit in error. The only recourse we have is for us residents to let the City know our thoughts on this.

Please see talking points below that I’ve been asked to share with you.
 -State Street cannot handle parking for another full service restaurant. Beer and wine should remain, Full Liquor intensifies the burden on the street and should be denied
 -If a full Liquor Permit is approved it exists forever. The establishment could eventually be sold to someone who does not care about the street and wants to open a nightclub, pool hall or another intensive use
 -Because the City of New Haven mistakenly signed off on the liquor application thus bypassing the public process they now are extending deadlines and bending over backwards to avoid lawsuits from the applicants. By rushing the process it is not giving the local management team or neighborhood associations the time to meet the owners, evaluate their plan and have the opportunity to organize for or against the application. The cutoff for the February 12th submission was on January 2nd, the city allowed the application to be submitted on January 25th a mere 18 days before the BZA hearing.
 -The applicants have been directed to serve beer and wine only until they receive BZA approvals from the city of New Haven. They have refused to abide by this directive.
 -The Applicant claims that there are 3 parking spaces on site. The building they are in have a number of residential units and they need parking. Additionally the driveway where the 3 spaces exist is presently used by the employees. If it is reserved for customers, these employees will be parking on the street for 8-12 hours at a time further intensifying the demand for parking. The applicant is required to have 12 spaces for the public and also the building is required to have to have an additional 5 spaces for the 5 units residential units in the buildings. A total of 17 required. None provided
 -In 2000 City plan wrote a scathing report and recommended denying the application for a 42 seat restaurant with a beer and wine license.  We have heard that the City Plan Commission will recommend approval of this application which makes no sense as the parking situation has only worsened on State Street. 
 -The applicant in 2000 claimed to provide valet parking and also claimed that a significant amount of their restaurant was to be storage to gain the approvals.None of the above was provided. The present applicants site plan shows the entire dining room as a dining room (not half storage as depicted on the original submission by the previous owner) and offers no valet parking as a solution
-The original relief sought in 2000 provided for a beer and wine license and hours of operation as follows;
 Monday          11 am - 10 pm
Tuesday          Closed
Wednesday     11 am - 10 pm
Thursday        11 am - 10 pm
Friday            11 am - 11 pm
Saturday        11 am - 11 pm
Sunday          12 pm - 10 pm
 We feel the hours of operation should remain the same as the original relief and that Beer and Wine only be served.
 If you would like to register your opinion for the upcoming BZA meeting but can’t make the meeting as it is the last on the agenda please feel free to e-mail the following people to register your opinion regarding these issues. Please ask that your opinion be submitted into the BZA record on February 12th 2013

Owners' Response:

I am Derek Bacon, one of the owners of Da Legna, and would like the opportunity to clarify the current situation a little for those who may not have the full spectrum, or grasp the issue in its entirety.
I will not bore you with any background information or attempt to familiarize you with who we are or what we stand for, as it seems there is little regard for our establishment or the service that we are trying to provide.
The landscape of State St, as well as the city for that matter, is obviously a delicate one. With a heavily concentrated residential neighborhood bordering a BA zone, an abundance of multifamily properties meets  a bustling business district filled with mixed use commercial buildings, offices, bars, restaurants, shops, gas station, churches and even a Probation hub and probate office. There is definitely a truth to be told about the parking in the neighborhood, as there are far more residents than places to park. I know there is a city wide parking shortage, I was a kid who grew up in Westville and lived here my whole life.  I have experienced the good and the not so good aspects of this city’s “parking plan” first hand. I, in no way, am minimizing the fact that things need to be addressed and ultimately changed for a progressive solution that will tackle this epidemic that affects us all.
However, our application is not to seek 3 parking spaces where 12 are required. That was not stated in our application and was written by the zoning dept, for whatever reason you can assume, if you would like I can forward our zoning application to whomever. We are not seeking to ask for exception or relief in regard to parking, nor is this issue a variance as your email states. As you know there was an existing business, that we purchased. This business was located in the current location of Da Legna, and the property footprint is exactly that of the footprint that was there in 2000, and many years prior. The buildings, which there are two, as well as the driveway and sidewalks, and elevations are exactly as they were in 2000, and many years prior. Amato’s 2000 application for beer and wine was accepted, with a storage room that dueled as private dining, and twelve spaces in a driveway that fits 4 comfortably. Anyone familiar with this corner knows that there was never space to park 12 vehicles, especially the Zoning Dept. He was denied the ability to valet cars, or offer the service at all. As we all know, our neighbors at Christopher Martins, have the same driveway configuration and provide valet parking. They are also partly responsible for your parking woes on Clark St, as I have documented their employees valeting and parking their personal vehicles up and down the street, and protruding vehicles beyond the extent of their driveway. We are not pointing out anything new, as neighbors I hope that your awareness does not turn a blind eye to the fact that this problem has been there for years, well before we ever thought of opening a business at this location.
With that being said I will try and shed light on the issue at hand. After the fire that ravaged the building, we were left with a decision to either rebuild, or look elsewhere to expand our business model. Mind you, the fire was determined to not be our fault, nor do we share any liability for the misfortunes that took place. It affected Mike, and the family that resided upstairs, as well as ourselves. Immediately after the fire we donated to Lisa out of our own pockets, towards the vet bills for Mike’s dogs, and to the family, as our  attempt at forwarding some relief to the other victims of the fire. Ultimately, we decided to rebuild in the original space, and continue to persevere and share our brand with the neighborhood. We could have picked up and went anywhere we wanted, but we chose to stay at 858 State Street because we felt it was the environment we wanted to be a part of. Personally, I am sure you can all agree that it isn’t the easiest business decision to continue to sell pizza under the casted shadow of the world renowned Modern Apizza, but at the end of the day it was our decision to make and we went with what felt comfortable.
We were under intense scrutiny every step of the way regarding the renovation of the building and space. Because of the events that transpired, we were studied under a “microscope” during the entire rebuild. Every fire marshal, parking, building, zoning, and health official under the sun was in that space reviewing plans and actual construction configurations, the entire process was double and triple checked. I applaud the city for taking the time to implement the proper manpower, to inspect  the entire process of planning, construction, and oversight, as well as their due diligence in seeing that we met all requirements . We had a year to get all things necessary signed off on and approved. We followed the rules to the best of our knowledge, and met all the obligations we were needed to. We applied for a 68 seat restaurant with a full liquor license. We were denied that amount of seating and were forced to resubmit a plan contingent on a total of 47 seats in the establishment. It wasn’t because of a lack of space, as we have plenty, instead it was because of the limited amount of parking in the area. None of our driveway parking spaces were needed to determine the 47 seats, they were granted without us having to claim any of those spots, which are currently being used by our staff.  We redrew the plans, with the same layout of kitchen, bar, and dining room as we had previously submitted, but with the stated 47 seats required by the Parking and Zoning Dept. This was signed and approved of, and allowed us our Certificate of Occupancy for a Restaurant/Bar with a total of 47 seats. We took these approved plans and simultaneously began “fitting” out the space, and applying for our State issued Full Liquor Permit. This application was public knowledge, documented in the newspaper, and displayed in our window for the entire world to see, as well as submit any inquiries or grievances one may have. Fortunately, our application was approved without incident, and we were allowed to serve beer, wine, and liquor at our establishment of 47 seats, zero parking spaces at 858 State St. We were told in order to get more seating, we would have to show more parking for our customers, every one parking spot allows for 4 seats. It was our intention and plan to go before the Board of Zoning prior to this spring and ask for outdoor patio seating, as well as two more tables inside the space, utilizing our driveway as adequate parking. We did not get that opportunity, as Christopher Martin’s owner filed a complaint with the city within the first two weeks of opening, regarding our Full Liquor Permit in a building only allowing beer and wine per Amato’s 2000 exemption. Our application was signed by  Zoning Enforcement Officer Andrew Rizzo, and did not show relevance to Amato’s original exemption. It did not have any special conditions, nor exemptions, in allowing us to serve liquor.  
We are now at a crossroads with this situation. We, and our investors, financed and modeled our entire business concept around the ability to offer alcohol of any sort, as well as our food menu. We are currently serving full liquor because we are allowed to, and the city has not attempted to revoke our permit, and we are in full cooperation with the city in applying before the Zoning Board for a special exemption to sell liquor in a space only permitted to sell beer and wine. We have spent over $500,000 in improving the landscape of the neighborhood by the beautification process that has taken place at our establishment. It is hard to argue against the fact that we have changed the appearance of the building in a great way, improved the aesthetics of this particular corner, added a unique and interesting atmosphere that provokes dialogue representing the neighborhood, and offer great food and drink to be consumed responsibly. We have appreciated the demographic of our consumer base, as there is a majority of neighbors that dine with us, as well as enjoy a drink at our bar. We have affected the immediate surroundings in nothing but a positive way, and spent our time and energy creating a place that can be appreciated by all and we hope it  inspires other business owners and establishments  to do the same. We will be displaying local artists’ work, we have and will continue to donate our time and money towards the priorities we believe in both in the city and beyond, as well as continue to make great food in a very suitable and comfortable atmosphere. We have not had one incident at our establishment that has negatively impacted anyone, nor would we tolerate any such behavior out of our patrons or the public. We staff many people, service our community, and take satisfaction in knowing that we are representing a great vantage point. We definitely feel that our intentions are being misrepresented by our competitors, leaving us vulnerable to misguided scrutiny that takes away from what we are proud to concentrate our focus: TO BE A PART OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD. I voiced our willingness to talk with anyone concerned, when I posted on Doug’s(alderman) facebook page about the hearing next week.
I just ask that you at least receive us with open ears, and not profile us as  a problematic nuisance, but as a devoted neighbor. We are an establishment of class and good character, and we employ the same concern in our pursuits as that of the neighborhood. We have a 20 year lease and will continue to service the neighborhood in a suitable, fitting regard, while enjoying the satisfaction of providing a comfortable setting that invokes civic leaders, entrepreneurs, students, residents, and neighbors alike to share in a community inspired environment. We do not feel the need to cite the inconsistencies or negligence of the city ordinances in regard to other businesses on State St, we can only expect that the City of New Haven will not chastise our business for following proper protocols. We know that not all of the businesses on State St are conforming to parking codes, seating codes, and occupancy limits. We look forward to being here as a model for other businesses as well as a proprietor in good standing with both the city we do business in, and the neighborhood we have integrated into to. I hope you do not mind that I have responded, and wish you will share this email with all concerned parties. I will forward this email to both Doug and Justin, who we have tremendous regard for, and support.  

Thanks for the Venue to Speak,

Derek Bacon