Zoners OK restaurant at long-empty Chambers site

After nearly a decade-long absence, and a six-month zoning debate, business will return to 38 Danbury Road, formerly the Chambers Army and Navy store.

The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the revised site plan to convert and use the building as a restaurant with a 7-0 final vote Tuesday night.

“Given the nostalgia of the building, I feel pressure to deliver a restaurant that benefits the community and complements the special character of Ridgefield,” said property owner Chris Sturges.

He said a “family friendly” menu will have a variety of options, including sandwiches, soups and salads.

As for what his “full service, sit down” restaurant will be named, Mr. Sturges said he’d like to unveil that at a later date, closer to the business’s grand opening, which he hopes will take place in the early fall.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the restaurant would be hamburger themed, but wouldn’t specify on other details.

Whatever the incoming business may be, the commission’s decision brings great relief to a building that was last occupied in 2004, as well as to an applicant who’s been pushing to get his remodeling plans finalized since January.

“I am excited to get started on the construction so that I can highlight the beauty of the long vacant building,” Mr. Sturges said.

Mr. Sturges, his attorney Robert Jewell and architect Doug MacMillan faced multiple hurdles regarding the number of parking spaces on the property during three Zoning Board of Appeals public hearings and two subsequent hearings in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The revised site plan submitted and approved Tuesday featured 31 parking spots, instead of the previous 29 spaces, for a 1,930-square-foot building.

Mr. Sturges said the plan included a slight reduction of approximately 30 square feet to the northeast wall of the building, which he noted was scheduled to be rebuilt during construction.

Attorney Edward Shelton represented the Sherwood Island LLC, owner of the Walgreens site and the adjoining property occupied by Ridgefield Dental Care, during the proceedings.

He appeared at the Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on May 14, where he brought up the issue of an easement that grants his clients two parking spots in the southeast corner of the Chambers property, claiming the number of spaces provided by the applicant was insufficient according to zoning regulations.

His main issue was with the exclusiveness of the two spots.

“I don’t see anywhere in the easement where we share these two spaces,” he said at the first meeting. “They are exclusively my clients’ spots based on this easement.”

Mr. Jewell and Mr. Shelton each sought the opinion of the land use counsel over the exclusiveness of the two spots mentioned in the easement.

After hearing the revised site plan at Tuesday’s continued hearing, he said that he had no further objections to the site plan as long as Mr. Sturges’s business would not use the two parking spots agreed to in the easement.

“The fact that the current neighboring tenant closes at 6 p.m. and is a dentist has no relevant effect to this commission and I wanted to make that clear and on the record — those two spaces are for my client’s use only,” Mr. Shelton said.

He explained to the commission that he wanted to make that distinction in case a new business inhabited the current building in which Ridgefield Dental Care is located.

“A new business may stay open much later than 6 p.m.,” he added.

Mr. Sturges’s property, located on the corner of Grove Street, consists of 0.46 acre in a B-1 commercial zone. The B-1 parking requirements are 15 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross building area.

Prior to the obstacles faced at the planning and zoning hearings, Mr. Sturges was denied a parking variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals on March 18, causing him to revise the site plan to include 29 parking spaces.

In the original plan, Mr. Sturges, listed as TD1 Capital Group in the application, provided 24 parking spaces for a gross building area of 2,800 square feet that required 42 parking spaces.

Since then, he’s made his building 870 square feet smaller, giving him enough parking space to satisfy both the zoning regulations as well as his property’s easement with the adjacent property.

After the continued public hearing was closed Tuesday, Commissioner John Katz moved to approve the site plan, while Commissioner Joseph Fossi seconded the motion.

“It’s a really nice project and we wish him the best of luck,” Mr. Fossi said.

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