SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The owners of Phil’s Kitchen are seeking three special use permits to expand its liquor license to full service alcohol, expand service to a roof top deck that would lead to the proposed space for the Contemporary Theater Company and a variance from parking requirements.
The proposed changes are part of Phil’s owners Kenneth and Carl Tetzners’ plans to renovate the block. The property at 325 Main Street includes Phil’s Restaurant, the former Kiddie Kloset and the site behind the restaurant, where the theater plans to move into.
The Zoning Board meeting Wednesday night follows Contemporary Theater Company’s announcement last week that they reached a lease agreement with the Tetzners’ to move into the space at 323 Main St., the former site of the Hera Gallery. The space on Main Street will be the largest permanent venue in the company's seven year history, accommodating 90 patrons.
Much of the members of the Downtown Merchants Association, including Jennifer’s Chocolates, All that Matters, Paul Masse, Gates Insurance and Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joe Iacoi sent letters of support for the Tetzners’ proposal to the Zoning Board. However, Wayne Cahoone, who owns real estate throughout Main and Robinson Streets, including the property of Brickleys Ice Cream, Therapy Boutique and Healey’s Newsstand, feared the proposal could alter the character of downtown Wakefield and strain limited parking availability, thereby affecting the success of other businesses.
In their proposal, the Tetzners seek to expand Phil’s beer and wine license obtained last August to a full service alcohol license to compete and keep clientele. The proposal then adds another request for a special use permit to expand service of alcohol to a proposed roof top deck and into the proposed theater building. The two areas will be connected by a walkway, raised 14 feet above the ground, extending from the second floor deck area to the theater.
With the roof top deck on the second floor of Phil’s, Kenneth Tetzner said the restaurant plans to have full service dining with alcohol. He said food will be the focus, not the alcohol.
“We were talking to people in town. We don’t have an area with outside dining and we don’t have sidewalk capacity,” Tetzner said.
The theater’s business manager Christopher Barrett said the theater will not directly receive profits from alcohol served to patrons, but it is common for theaters to serve alcohol during performances. The alcohol service will only be handled by Phil’s employees.
The board members did not have concerns with the proposal to expand the beer and wine license to full service alcohol, but some did worry about expanding that license to a roof top deck and its affect on the neighborhood’s character.
“I think putting a deck on top of the building with alcohol service, I don’t think that’s in character with the neighborhood,” Ernest George, a board member said.
“I don’t want a party across the street,” Wayne Cahoone said. “I don’t want alcohol to be the focus of that property. I’d like it to be food. I’m hesitant to say I favor the consumption of alcohol on the outside deck. That invites trouble.”
Board members Igor Runge and Stephanie Osborn favored the idea of outside dining, stating it was commonplace in the south. Osborn suggested softening the look of the deck to fit more with the character of the district.
With the addition of a theater likely to draw in traffic, the parking variance became the big issue. Phil’s is seeking a variance for 43 spots. The Phil’s property requires 28 parking spaces and the theater requires 15 spaces. There are now only 23 spots for the restaurant.
The Tetzners and the Contemporary Theater Company said parking could be accommodated. They said Paul Masse volunteered his 23 spots and David Gates of Gates Insurance offered his 26 spots to be used for Phil's and the theater patrons. Town lots behind All that Matters would also be available in addition to the spaces already at Phil's. Theater Artistic Director Christopher Simpson said the actors park off site as far as possible and ticket holders can be notified beforehand where to park.
“We discussed the expansion with other businesses. Everyone I spoke with is all for it. Any time you bring an event downtown, every business profits. There’s more traffic. It makes it a destination,” Tetzner said.
Cahoone worried, however, that there is not enough parking available to accommodate a theater crowd.
“The Tetzners have done an unbelievable job in the transformation of that business,” Cahoone said. “I do have concerns with the parking. Right now about 40 to 50 people are in [Phil’s] at a time. I don’t know where people are going to park. Those lots are open quite often and then their full quite often. I’m concerned for my patrons. Brickley’s does a phenomenal job six months of the year. Those businesses will be impeded.”
Cahoone said without parking, customers may bypass the businesses, but Megan Moyerhan, a Charlestown resident countered that the problem of parking availability is a sign of success.
“As a person who lived in New York City, I’d say Broadway has no parking, but it has great theater. This happens as an area gets more successful,” Moyerhan said.
Cahoone said he would support the project, but his only hope was that the Tetzners and the theater come up with ways to accommodate parking.
The addition of the Contemporary Theater Company to Main Street was one bright spot with most board members in favor of the proposal.
“I know the history of [Contemporary Theater Company] trying to get into town for some years,” Stephanie Osborn, a board member said. “I really hope we grant this. It’s great to have a theater in downtown Wakefield.”
The Zoning Board continued the application to next month’s meeting on Feb. 15 to give Phil’s and the Contemporary Theater Company an opportunity to provide more detailed plans and address parking concerns.
Earlier at the meeting, the Zoning Board did approve an a variance for Hal’s Garage and Auto Body at 171 Old Tower Hill Road, Wakefield to construct a 14.5 foot by 34.3 foot addition designated for office and customer space.