By Andrew Wroblewski
The Huntington zoning board last week approved a proposal to build an outside dining area at Cirella’s Cafe restaurant in the Walt Whitman Shops’ Saks Fifth Avenue. The plan includes a six-seat bar and fire pit at an area of the mall that’s nearest to local residences and, up to this point, has not had outdoor dining.
The 1,000-square-foot patio would be an extension of the Cirella’s restaurant on the New York Avenue-facing side of the Walt Whitman Shops, 350 feet away from the closest residential property.
The patio would have 30-35 total seats and be on the northeastern corner of the Saks’ property, next to the mall’s loading docks.
“My clients are well aware of the fact that this is the residential side of the mall and that this is, in some respects, setting a precedent,” said attorney William Bonesso, representing applicants Walt Whitman Mall LLC and Saks. “But, with that said, they are prepared to take every effort to make sure that does not become a disturbance.”
Dean Cirella, owner of the family-style restaurant group, said the “dining area is actually very small. The bar area is only six seats. It’s really just for people waiting to sit down.”
The applicants sought three separate variances from the ZBA – including those for outdoor dining and parking. There were no public speakers during the hearing and the ZBA approved the proposal 5-2, with the understanding that the applicants would return to the board with an update on the patio every year.
To manage potential noise and lighting disturbances, the applicants proposed to line with tall foliage the sides of the planned patio not guarded by the building. Concrete planters may also be used to protect diners from potential stray vehicles.
If the patio is approved, Cirella’s would maintain one of two outdoor bars on mall property – another is operated by Brio Tuscan Grille. The proposed patio would have speakers for music and proposed hours of operation are 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
When asked by ZBA Chair Christopher Modelewski if residents would be able to see the activity of the patio from residential properties, attorney John Breslin, who was called as a real estate expert, said, “When the cars are there, no, you wouldn’t be able to see it. When it’s empty, it’s a significant distance away, [but] you would see something.
“This is a very, very insignificant part of the [mall] property itself, the building itself and, by allowing it to be utilized, it’s another further way of providing services for the use of the mall.”
The proposal must now receive site plan approval from the Huntington Planning Board.
Bonesso, the attorney representing the mall and its tenant, said, “I hope that by the new year we will be scheduled for determination by the planning board itself, and then we can move forward with obtaining building permits and start the actual construction in the early spring.”