MERIDEN — In an effort to attract more restaurants, City Planner Renata Bertotti is looking to change a zoning regulation that prohibits restaurants and hotels that serve liquor from opening within 1,500 feet of each other.
Bertotti believes the regulation, which applies city-wide except in the Transit-Oriented Development zone downtown, restricts the city’s development opportunities.
“It eliminates our opportunities for some restaurants to come here and I frankly don’t see why that is necessary,” said Bertotti. “...I hope this will alleviate some of the regulatory complexities that perhaps inhibit (restaurants from opening).”
Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said the regulation change, if approved by the City Council, would allow “clusters” of restaurants.
“Renata is just doing a good job of looking at sections of the code that might inhibit economic development, and that was one of the places where there was no reason for that restriction,” Burdelski said.
The regulations stipulate the front entrance of a building or premises used for retail sale of liquor “shall be located within a one-thousand-five-hundred-foot radius, measured in a straight line, from the main front entrance of any other permit premises used for the sale of alcoholic liquor at retail.”
The regulations allow for some exceptions, including if a building is “located in a shopping center development of at least 50,000 square feet of gross floor area located on a lot of a minimum area of four acres.”
Bertotti and Burdelski both said they didn’t know why the regulation, which predates them, was approved.
Areas that would benefit from the change include is the Westfield Mall, which currently only has one restaurant that serves liquor — Ruby Tuesday, and East Main Street, where Taino Smokehouse will soon be near Huxley’s Bookmark Cafe, which is relocating to a bigger space across the street. Under the current regulations, Burdelski said, one of the two restaurants would need a zoning variance if they both wanted to serve liquor.
Burdelski doesn’t know of any applications that were denied due to the regulations but said it’s “notable there’s only one restaurant at the mall.”
“You would logically think there would be more than one restaurant (that serves liquor),” Burdelski said.
Many national chain restaurants, Bertotti said, have employees who scout out municipal zoning regulations before applying open a location.
“If there are these kinds of restrictions, they won't even try,” Bertotti said.
Bertotti came to Meriden last year from the town of Manchester, where she worked as a senior planner for 11 years. Bertotti immediately noticed that Meriden lacks clusters of restaurants she was used to in Manchester.
“I kind of wanted to do this when I first came because I drove around and there's no restaurant to go to after five o’clock,” Bertotti said.
The regulation change will go before the City Council’s Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee, which will hold a public hearing before making a recommendation to the full City Council.
Council Majority Leader David Lowell, chairman of the EDHZ Committee, is optimistic that the regulation change will encourage restaurants near each other.
“The theory is that business breeds business, which is good for everybody,” Lowell said.
Bertotti said she is also looking to attract development by “streamlining” the process that applicants go through to get approval for proposals. Bertotti hopes to eliminate “redundancies” so that applicants don’t need to go before multiple land use boards to get approval in some cases.
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