By Erich Wagner (File photo)
City councilors unanimously approved a plan for a popular French restaurant to open a small inn at a historic Old Town mansion house, but residents fear the neighborhood is ill suited to hosting the upscale eatery.
La Bergerie hoped to move from its current location on North Lee Street to a long for-sale mansion along 329 N. Washington St. The new location would include a five-bedroom hotel and expand its restaurant operations to 153 seats — including more than 40 outdoor dining seats.
But because more than 20 percent of neighbors signed a petition protesting the proposal, it needed a supermajority of at least six city councilors to approve the project.
Over the course of a five-hour hearing last month, some residents touted La Bergerie as a model business. But would-be neighbors laid out a laundry list of concerns, from trash pickup and noise from the outdoor seating area to fears that diners would take coveted free parking spaces along the adjacent cobblestone block of Princess Street.
“Make no mistake: this is a very large restaurant, masquerading as a tiny inn,” said resident Robert Rowe. “This will have very substantial effects on this couple-block radius that we’re talking about. Those who bought homes here had the expectation that the [residential] zoning would protect our quiet enjoyment of this beautiful street.”
“[La Bergerie] already operates in Old Town, so I’m not sure I understand the reason for the move,” said Leanne Wadsworth. “This will introduce transient business to this residential neighborhood and the noise will adversely impact my enjoyment of my own property.”
But local development attorney Cathy Puskar, who represented owners Laurent and Margaret Janowsky, said her clients have made every effort to mitigate neighbors’ concerns and pointed to the dozens of conditions to the proposed eatery’s permit.
These restrictions run the gamut from restricting when the restaurant can receive deliveries and trash collection to when outdoor dining must end —10 p.m.— and even requiring the Janowskys to rent more than 30 spaces at a nearby parking lot for diners’ complimentary use.
“What have we agreed to? We limited outdoor dining to be cleared by 10 p.m., limited outdoor music to 9 p.m., and then we further reduced it Sundays through Wednesdays to 7 p.m.,” Puskar said. “While most businesses agree to a six-month review, we’ve agreed to six months, one year and now 18-month reviews.
“We are so convinced that this business would be a good neighbor, that this is all something we would agree to.”
At the start of the hearing, city councilors addressed a letter from one resident demanding they recuse themselves because the owners are related to former mayor and state senator Patsy Ticer (D). Each city councilor said the relationship had no bearing on the project and did not represent a conflict of interest.
“If we had to disqualify ourselves every time we knew the relative of an applicant, we’d have a lot of 1-0 votes up here,” said City Councilor Tim Lovain.
Despite the strident opposition of some neighbors, Puskar said her clients hope to prove that La Bergerie will be, in fact, a good neighbor.
“It’s a hard conversation to be having, but clearly the Janowskys want neighbors to come to this restaurant — that’s why we worked so hard,” Puskar said. “It may never be enough for some people, but we have worked really hard to add additional parameters to address every individual concern that’s been raised.”