Town Planning Board continues public hearing
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
A daytime coffee shop may be welcome, an evening wine bar, perhaps not so much: Neighbors packed a Philipstown Planning Board public hearing Thursday night (July 30) to object to plans by the Garrison Café to enlarge its space and operations and become a restaurant and more.
Given the outpouring of mostly negative feedback and inquiries about further possibilities for public input, the Planning Board, meeting at the Butterfield Library in Cold Spring, voted to keep the hearing open, into September.
Located in Garrison on Route 9D at Grassi Lane, the café is near St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the U.S. Post Office, the Garrison Union Free School and a regulated wetland. The overall site consists of two adjacent parcels, one in the highway/mixed-use district and the other in the hamlet/residential district, and the café building contains a vacant, three-bedroom apartment.
Garrison Café proprietors Lydia and Matt McMahon, who own the café business — titled Vista44 LLC — but not the overall property, want to convert the apartment into a restaurant-cum-wine bar and open a wine/spirits shop as well. Their plans involve a change of use, plus alterations to a structure containing 1,000 or more square feet, and thus, under the town code, need Planning Board approval.
At present, the café serves eggs in various forms and other breakfast options, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, salads, pastries, coffee, wine, beer and other selections. The McMahons anticipate operating the restaurant/wine bar from Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until either 10 p.m. (Wednesday and Sunday) or 11 p.m. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday).
The wine/liquor store would be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. The café section would operate seven days a week — from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. (Current cafe hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.)
The building was once part of a gasoline station. In a more recent pre-café incarnation, it housed the Garrison Market, which for a time featured Graze, a restaurant open two nights weekly.
At the public hearing, both Planning Board and audience members questioned aspects of parking, traffic flow and safety, in a Garrison Café expansion.
Representing the McMahons, Glennon Watson, of Badey & Watson Surveying and Engineering P.C., said the design had already been revised from the version shown the Planning Board in June, to better address parking demands. “We made sure the parking works,” he informed the Planning Board and public.
Matt McMahon commented that the plans may make the restaurant “seem so large, but really it isn’t” and that the reconfiguration would create a pleasant dining venue. “This is just an attempt to have an evening business a few nights a week,” he explained, suggesting that the restaurant could become the gathering place for Garrison. Route 9D from the post office to the school “is really the commercial heart of Garrison,” he said. McMahon also reminded everyone that the café already has the right to serve alcohol and stay open evenings.
Ron Gainer, the town’s consulting engineer, pointed to the need for review of wetlands-related matters and noted that, in general, “there’s a variety of site-plan issues that have to be resolved.”
A threat to ‘pin-drop quiet’?
Nearby homeowners presented the board with a letter expressing fears that expanding the business “will have a negative impact on our neighborhood” — Grassi Lane, Alfalfa Lane and Route 9D — a place “peaceful and pin-drop quiet after dusk.”
Citing “quality of life” issues, the letter stated that “the site would morph from a small deli operation to a larger establishment serving food and alcohol late into the evenings” and that the restaurant may host larger events with music (inside and outside), as well. Restaurant operations would also bring noise, along with vehicle headlights and other forms of intrusive lighting, the letter predicted.
“No one who has moved here would expect to be subjected to that kind of activity,” the letter said. It added that “residents’ right to peace and privacy has recently been infringed upon in the mornings by changes to the post office” and that “the neighborhood was not consulted about these changes.”
Safety could be affected, too, the letter warned. “There is already increased traffic to and from the post office, with cars darting in and out of the parking lot and using Grassi Lane, making it more difficult to enter and exit,” the letter stated. “With a wine bar there, the situation could grow more hazardous for a longer period each day, with the added potential for driver impairment.”
Moreover, the residents observed in the letter and in their remarks to the Planning Board, both Grassi and Alfalfa Lanes are private — not commercial — roads, maintained by residents at notable cost. “People from the post office already use Grassi Lane without residents’ permission and we would have every reason to expect that patrons at the expanded wine bar, particularly during special events or performances, would as well,” the letter said.
Addressing the Planning Board, Wally Schaefer, a neighbor and café customer, said that he understands the McMahons’ desire to fulfill a dream of opening a wine bar/restaurant. “I wish them best success but I hope we can find a middle ground … something that suits everybody. It really is a residential zone,” already disrupted by the post office, he said. “Are we going to have five or six hours of peace and quiet? I think you should really give that a lot of thought.”
Goldee Greene, who lives on Alfalfa Lane, expressed the “wish that there was a more heightened sense of sensitivity, a little sensitivity, about what Garrison is all about. We don’t really need a place where we’re all going to be hanging out.” She described the project as “unsafe … unaesthetic” with possible “shocking” and “horrifying” repercussions. While she favors the café’s continued existence, she said, she does not want a restaurant. “No, that’s not what we need in the hamlet of Garrison.”
Diane Travis described a problem “with people parking on private roads” even now and criticized the Planning Board for conducting a site survey June 28 without alerting residents. “None of us was aware” of the board’s presence, she said. “You didn’t see our side. We were like blindsided. You didn’t do us justice.”
The Planning Board routinely visits sites involved in applications; it schedules its trips in public during monthly meetings.
Photos by L.S. Armstrong
Planning Board site visits are open to the public, and along with public hearings, are posted in the PCNR in the legal column. Not exactly a thrilling read, but essential for the functioning of our local government.
Oh please, give me a break, what a ridiculous reaction to yet another unfortunate business owner trying to make a living in this elitist community. What I find “shocking and horrifying” are the comments of the locals who claim their rights to a silence so profound you can hear a “pin drop” trumps the right of the Cafe owners to enlarge their business. I have been to the Cafe on several occasions at different times of the day and most of the time it’s so quiet you barely know it’s open.
I have never seen a town that is as anti-business as Philipstown, where even the most innocuous endeavors are met with hostility and obstruction. As I have said many times, I wish the outraged residents who are so upset could experience the tax impact of living in a town that has almost zero commercial ratables like the one where I live (Putnam Valley). They might change their tune.
I think it’s a great idea. It would be nice not to have to go all the way into Cold Spring for a quick drink after some recreation at the rec center for those who don’t have a country club membership.
Thank you for posting such a well-reported story. Not only was it accurate, but the reporter did a great job filling in the story with additional and relevant details. The Café’s neighbors in general have been very supportive and we are happy to hear their valuable POV and craft a plan for Redoubt Wine Bar that will be a great addition to our town, and as importantly, still fit in appropriately with our neighborhood.
Matt & Lydia McMahon
The Garrison Cafe
I think it’s understandable for people to be concerned; we love Garrison the way it is. But this would be a great addition to our community and I have a strong sense Lydia and Matt will get it right.
As Ray so succinctly put it Saturday evening, we all need to show up at the meeting in September and make our comments heard, provided we want this to happen. As for myself, I’d love to see this go through. We haven’t had an evening place to go and have a glass of wine and unwind since Eric at the Highlands left to start his own restaurant. Here is our opportunity to this place again. So, let’s go and voice our positions. Whether in writing or in person, it needs to be done. Otherwise, our community will atrophy.
I second the suggestions made by Spiros Angelopoulos. I love Garrison and believe the plans for the McMahon’s Cafe – if approved – will enhance the wonderful community.
I was at the last meeting and agree this story was accurately reported.
Here’s what I wish I would have said at the meeting. Matt & Lydia have done a wonderful job making the Garrison Cafe as community friendly as possible. A small wine bar seems like a natural addition and fits into their wheelhouse of expertise. They have gotten the permission and liquor license to expand and it is well within their right to do so. It was my understanding that we were meeting to make sure the construction to modify the usage was proper and wetlands are preserved and parking would not infringe on nearby neighbors. It’s discernible that neighbors would be concerned about noise and later hours when this addition is completed. Grassi & Alfalfa Lane are charming streets in Garrison. But as was stated in the article — this area is the commercial hub of Garrison (long before the McMahons took over the cafe) with activity all day between the post office, church, pre-school, K-8 school, gas stations, yoga studio and real estate offices as well as a landscaping company which has been there for over 20 years.
Although still bucolic, country and quiet, if you moved to Garrison to hear a pin drop this is not the area of Garrison you would choose to live. Consequently future buyers who want to have more amenities nearby will find these homes very attractive and these local businesses will keep property values high. As with any positive public discourse I was pleased to know that concerns could be heard and even addressed — for instance Matt brought up a good suggestion to extend the 30 mph zone through the Garrison Cafe part of 9D. Another resident suggested (because of increased traffic) that the town take over the maintenance of Grassi and Alfalfa Lanes. I support both of these!
I have a tendency to always see the glass half full and feel positive that the Garrison Cafe expansion will be a welcome addition to Philipstown. In full disclosure I should mention that the McMahons and my family have lived on the same street for almost 15 years. Although we don’t see them much we have a wonderful neighborly relationship and they have always been considerate, supportive, hardworking and responsible in all their endeavors and also in our interactions as neighbors and friends. They are bringing these qualities to the Garrison Cafe. They provide a service to the community and enhance it. The expansion of the Garrison Cafe to add a small wine bar should be no different.
All of those who commented above make an excellent case for the Garrison Cafe expansion. I agree and urge all to get to that September Planning Board meeting, as Mr. Angelopoulos suggests, to make their opinions known. I think the expansion will mean that stakeholders like the McMahons will watch over the area and invest in its improvement, rather than allow it to decline.
The post office operations are going to be there to stay. If you talk to anyone in the commercial postal business or higher up in the food chain at the USPS, the Cold Spring office at Butterfield is going to be nothing more than retail operations. There’s no significant dedicated loading dock or anything of that matter. The bulk of distribution is going to come from the Garrison office.
It’s a nice thing to think the Post Office would notify residents beforehand, the decision was made from postal officials, who were looking at efficiency and cost first, residents second. The private owners should take a look at deeding the private roads over to the town so the burdens of maintenance doesn’t become theirs if there is so much extra use.
Over 20 years ago there was a big hullabaloo in the eastern portion of the county over the Brewster post office moving out of downtown Brewster and into an office park on Route 22. Brewster is now a big distribution point because it’s on Route 22 instead of Main Street, much like Garrison Post Office is on 9D. The post office problem in Garrison in here to stay, so the residents should try get used to it. A wine bar is a nice addition to a commercial area, much better than a deli, or a gas station, or some other quasi-chain establishment you can see anywhere north on Route 9. They’re not going to be any worse than the post office, so grab a glass of wine and calm down!
I like Stacy’s idea of extending the 30 MPH zone. The problem is that even the existing speed zones in Philipstown seem so rarely heeded or enforced. I think that fixed radar speed zone signs would help. The occasional, temporary sheriff radar signs just don’t have any lasting impact.