2009-05-07 / Front Page

Zoning board approves Dutch Harbor Boat Yard deli

By Tyler Will

This shack will be remodeled and serve as a deli for Dutch Harbor Boat Yard patrons starting this summer. Photo by Tyler Will This shack will be remodeled and serve as a deli for Dutch Harbor Boat Yard patrons starting this summer. Photo by Tyler Will The Jamestown Zoning Board of Review unanimously approved a variance and special-use permit for a sandwich shack at Dutch Harbor Boat Yard after hearing approvals and concerns of area residents.

The vast majority of the concerns were about parking and business expansion, but also included questions about noise, trash and food delivery trucks.

The approved shack is a 10- by 15-foot structure on the edge of the Dutch Harbor Boat Yard property, only 3 feet from the end of Narragansett Avenue. The boat yard owners want to turn it into a delistyle shop that will sell sandwiches and soups. The shack would easily fit inside a two-car garage.

According to Zoning Official Fred Brown, the variance allows the building to sit 3 feet from the property line, when normally 30 feet is required; and the specialuse permit allows food to be sold in the shack, which was previously used for storage.

Zoning board member Don Wineberg said granting a variance and special-use permit still did not allow the lunch shack to alter the character of the town. He and other board members expressed particular concern with parking.

Mark Liberati, a lawyer for the boatyard owners and the father of the caterer who will likely work in the shack, said the town makes a distinction between a boat yard and marina. He said a boat yard is where boats are stored and worked on, and a marina is where services are provided. More cars does not mean the character is being changed, Liberati said.

"If you're going to define that [altering the character] to say more cars, I think you could say that of any kind of proposal," Liberati said. "We are not altering the character of the town."

Boat yard owners Alison and Larry Eichler said their intention is to provide a place for their customers to buy food, which boaters have asked for. Alison said people often rent moorings from Dutch Harbor Boat Yard for one night while they are sailing from Block Island to Barrington, or are cruising to New York.

Those customers have to walk about a mile down the road if they want to pick up food, they said.

Alison Eichler expressed her excitement after the zoning board approved the variance and permit.

"The town is being so kind for letting us offer an amenity to our customers," she said after the meeting, explaining that the yard offers other services like laundry, maintenance, and a shuttle service that brings people from their boats to shore.

The shack will be ready for service around the end of May, Alison said after the meeting. The wood shingles on the outside will be replaced and painted, and the roof will be redone.

Residents were also allowed to comment on the shack. While a few of them who spoke at the meeting said they opposed the shack outright, many residents said they would support the approval of the shack if it had some restrictions.

Spencer Potter, a resident of West Ferry, said the lunch shack is "the nose of the camel under the tent" and will slowly grow into a larger business. He said his family has enjoyed a quiet Jamestown for 90 years and hopes it will be quiet for the next 90 years.

"If it is successful, the owners will want to expand it," Potter said. "And if it's not successful, the owners will need to expand it."

Mary Brennan, another resident of West Ferry, said the street is always crowded with cars in the summer, and she brought poster boards with pictures of a busy Narragansett Avenue. She said emergency vehicles have a difficult time getting through the street because people park on both sides.

Alison Eichler acknowledged after the meeting that the street does get crowded, but her husband, Larry said he's never heard complaints about parking, or even the walk to the East Ferry Deli. Many of the customers currently walk there to pick up food, he said.

Bill Munger said parking was a community issue, not an issue for the boat yard owners, and there is a need for commercial establishment in the area.

"Currently you can't buy a glass of water on that side of the island," Munger said. "There is a need for a sandwich shop." Munger also rejected an idea to restrict the sandwich shack customer base to boat yard customers and also an idea to restrict parking to boat yard customers.

Paula Kruger, another resident, said the shack is self-limiting, because its small menu will not provide a huge variety to customers and people won't buy a sandwich at 6 p.m. for dinner. "By definition, it is not going to be Flo's Clam Shack or Red Lobster…when the guy runs out of sandwiches, the guy runs out of sandwiches."

The parking issue and ideas of large crowds buying food "has been blown way out of proportion," Kruger said.

The Eichler's testimony and information from Liberati suggest the shack will be a small operation. Liberati said at the Planning Commission meeting about a month ago that there will be no advertising. Larry said he won't even use a catering truck or temporary buildings because they look bad.

He said he doesn't expect the shack to become a tourist attraction, either.

"I don't think people are going to be swarming from all over the region on our 10- by 15-foot building," he said to the board. "I'm glad everyone thinks this is going to be drawing people from all over," he added later.

Residents and Zoning Board members made suggestions to ease the parking concern. One suggestion was to enforce a policy restricting the lunch shack to boat yard customers, which many residents and board members alike rejected.

"For God's sake, don't make it be private," Munger said. "That side of Jamestown is beautiful…it wouldn't be the same."

Ken Newman suggested a shack that currently exists on one of the docks be used as the shop, but after the meeting Alison Eichler said the shack is used for the launch drivers, who pick up boaters. The shack is only about 5- by 8-feet, and isn't good for restaurant use. "From a business perspective, you wouldn't want a restaurant on a dock," she said.

Newman also said to ease the parking concern, an off-site location like the school could be used for overflow parking. Parking should also only be allowed on one side of the street, he said.

Brennan demonstrated good faith by saying she wouldn't mind if the parking were on her side of the street, as long as it kept the road clear. Alison Eichler said it would solve the problem.

Newman said the number of moorings hasn't increased, but the number of cars per mooring has, because boaters aren't car pooling as much.

Newman said he was also concerned that slowly more and more tables would be added outside. But, he acknowledged the work the owners have put into the boat yard.

"I think that one of the things that is clear to me is that they've put a huge amount of thought into how the whole operation will look," Newman said.

Larry Eichler listed extensive renovations to the property, which he said looked like a junk yard when he and his wife took it over last summer. The owners cleared old boats and debris, replaced the oil tank, floating docks, obtained permits, a new carriage system to bring boats in and out of the water, and renovated the office and the apartment above it.

Eichler said they also bought a one-year-old boat to use for their water shuttle service.

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