ALTAMONT — Curry Patta, a new Pakistani restaurant, is set to more than double in size after the Altamont Planning Board at its Monday meeting approved an amendment to the special-use permit of the plaza in which the restaurant is housed.
Since Altamont Corners is owned by Jeff Thomas, the building addition was an amendment to the existing special-use permit he holds on the plaza, not the permit of Nadia Raza, the owner of Curry Patta.
But Raza would still have to come back before the board for an amendment to her permit to allow for outdoor entertainment as well as to enlarge the restaurant into the new addition.
The now-1,200-square-foot restaurant would receive a 1,470-square-foot enclosed addition along with a wooden deck and stone patio that, taken together, would add about 1,500 square feet to the project.
The March 22 meeting was also a public hearing on the expansion of Altamont Corners, a plaza at the corner of Main Street and Altamont Boulevard in the village.
Everyone who spoke during the public-comment period was in favor of the project, but Michelle Viola-Straight was the first to broach the topic of music, which became the issue of the night.
At last month’s meeting, planning board member John Hukey wanted to know about live music that would be played at the restaurant.
Donald Cropsey, speaking on behalf of Thomas, said during the February meeting that he had spoken with Thomas, who told him there may be “jazz music inside” the restaurant, light music, perhaps a jazz trio on the deck, “cultural music consistent with the type of food that’s being sold.”
Cropsey continued, “But I don’t believe that it’s going to be loud, obtrusive music.” Hukey wasn’t questioning what was Cropsey was saying, he said, but he wanted to know what Raza was actually going to end up doing, “if we don’t have something in place to have a say about it.”
That could be addressed at the public hearing in March, Cropsey had said last month — it wasn’t — adding he could get more information about the type of live entertainment at the restaurant — he didn’t.
At the March 22 meeting, Viola-Straight said, “I think having a dialogue open about the noise ordinance, that would be definitely a starting point. To put limitations on a business like that, it definitely would definitely hurt.”
She went on, referring to a now-closed restaurant on Main Street with an outdoor patio, “In the past, Veronica’s has had somebody there playing a guitar. Back in the day, Desolation Studio had somebody there, they had bands there, and they would play like two- and three-man bands, and have some live entertainment. The park has entertainment; the library does. It’s something that people are definitely craving.”
She continued, “And I think, if you started a dialogue, there would definitely be a happy medium in there with some conversations of how you could allow this to happen, how it wouldn’t intrude on any of the neighbors [and] wouldn’t impede on anybody’s rights and privilege to living a quiet lifestyle. But it would definitely be an asset. And it would be a travesty to limit the property and say, ‘Well, you can do everything, but you can’t have a guy with a guitar.’”
Chairwoman Deb Hext responded, “That’s definitely not our intent.”
Village attorney Allyson Phillips noted that the planning board approved Curry Patta for a special-use permit so that Raza could “start the business before and while [the Thomas] application and review was ongoing for the building expansion.”
“I don’t think that the board has any issue or jurisdiction with respect to someone playing music inside the building or inside the restaurant space,” Phillips said. “The question becomes a land-use question when that entertainment or outdoor music or amplified noise is outside. And it’s got then the potential to have an impact on neighboring properties.”
Phillips said there had been discussions about music dating back to November of last year but, if there’s going to be a proposal for outdoor entertainment or music, she said, “it’s got to be part of an application; it’s got to be part of a proposed use” that comes before the planning board, which can be reviewed as part of a special-use permit.
Phillips said the Altamont Corners expansion application did not give the kind of details Viola-Straight had mentioned such as the type of outdoor entertainment or music that would be offered or the hours it would be played, all of which were important for the public to know.
Although, on the Altamont Corners’ February special-use permit application, the project narrative said, “Live culture entertainment is anticipated which could include for example Friday night Jazz.” No other specifics were given.
The draft resolution approving the addition to the plaza that was posted online this past Friday does not permit music as part of the expansion because the members understood it was on Raza to come back before the board for an amendment on her special-use permit to enlarge her restaurant, at which point she would provide for the board a description of “how outdoor music or entertainment would fit within that enlarged use,” Phillips said.
“I don’t think it’s unusual that the landlord didn’t include that level of detail in this application,” she said, as it would be Raza who would have all of the very specific information the board needs. It’s just that an application has to be given to the planning board with the specific information for its review, Phillips said.
“I do not think it is this board’s intent to prohibit some kind of outdoor entertainment or outdoor music … provided we can review it and determine it’s appropriate and won’t have a negative impact,” Phillips said.
Bad for business
Jeff Perlee, who represents Altamont in the Albany County Legislature, also spoke about music but sought to frame it within a larger context.
Perlee said live entertainment shouldn’t be authorized for a specific applicant. “I think it’s being too restrictive, and it’s putting a competitive disadvantage on the property itself.”
While Perlee praised Raza’s success, he said if she did have to close, “it would be a real competitive disadvantage, if the next applicant had to go through all the same processes,” referring to new businesses having to reapply for a special-use permit for entertainment. “And that same applicant — we’ve kind of run out of people … we’re getting close to the end of people from this community who are willing to devote their time and resources to opening a business.
“The fact of the matter is, the future of Altamont business is going to come from people outside. And those people have choices. And they could open a business in Voorheesville, they can open a business in Delanson, and if Altamont property is not able to compete competitively by saying, ‘Yes, if you open a restaurant here, of course you can have live music.’ Then we run the risk of losing that business opportunity to a neighboring community.
“So, I would just certainly urge you to approve the expansion. But I also see fit to approve the expansion with the authorization for live music to the property to the landlord in this particular case.”
Phillips saw this as another good opportunity to explain things.
The idea would be to have the tenant, “the actual user of the space,” Phillips said, receive approval for outdoor entertainment, because tenants are best positioned to determine what they want to propose and receive approval for, “and also what conditions they can live with.”
Raza could present an application with what would be best for her business — a restaurant with a bar, under the village zoning; the Subway sandwich restaurant which previously occupied the space had a different zoning designation.
Were Raza to receive outdoor-entertainment approval, then, in the future, if another restaurant with a bar were to occupy the space, it could operate under the parameters set by Raza’s special-use permit, Phillips said, the owner would “not need to come back to this planning board.”
Joe Burke, the director of the Altamont Free Library, who, more than anyone else in the village would have reason to be opposed to the additions since the library is the closest non-plaza-tenant neighbor, said the expansion wouldn’t have a “detrimental impact on the life of the library.” Burke said he was more than happy to be “open-minded” with everything else that had been discussed during the March 22 meeting.
Whalen rides off, succinctly
The retiring Dean Whalen, the liaison trustee to the planning board, sought to summarize the issue the board was facing.
Given what was submitted with the Altamont Corners application, “which does not really specify anything related to noise, which seems to be one of the big issues, the board can proceed with the application as it is.”
That puts the onus on Raza when she comes back before the board for an amendment to her special-use permit, “to clarify what she wants to do,” but that also “kind of puts a bit of her on the bubble, because she won’t know if she’ll get what she needs at that time. Very likely she will. But that’s not cast in stone.”
The second option the board had was to request from Thomas more noise-related information that would apply more specifically to the plaza expansion and to his particular permit application.
The word “no”
Cropsey offered another option: Change the outdoor-entertainment condition contained in the resolution the board had originally intended to adopt.
The planning board’s condition said, “No outdoor entertainment, including but not limited to entertainment utilizing amplified music, shall be allowed in the expansion unless such time as approval is granted by the planning board.”
The condition Cropsey offered said, “Entertainment, including but not limited to entertainment utilizing amplified music, may be allowed in a deck expansion area only as approved by the planning board as an amendment to the occupying tenants special-use permit.”
Cropsey said the condition he was offering would give Thomas the ability to market the space should Raza go out of business, but it would also give her “a little bit more confidence” when she has to come before the board to amend her own permit application.
“The original language really kind of shuts it down; with the modified language, it gives the option to both the landlord and the tenant,” Cropsey said.
Phillips said there was no difference between the original condition and what Cropsey was offering, because the proposal would still have to be approved by the planning board. “Obviously, you feel that there is some advantage in working it that way,” Phillips said. “And I just don’t want to mislead you that your language would get you some additional rights than what’s in this resolution here.”
Cropsey wasn’t suggesting it would, he said, “but the word, ‘no’ if we could take that right out of the sentence, that would be great.”
“You can’t have the idea that [the] special-use permit should run with the land, unless, as we had said before, you’re significantly altering it, you’re enlarging it, or you’re changing the permitted use,” Phillips said.
It almost seemed as if Cropsey were attempting to introduce an outdoor-entertainment approval for Thomas separate from Raza’s, she said, so that Thomas could “market” the space “separate from how [Raza] can use it where, in reality, I don’t see that we can separate the two.”
No one’s saying there couldn’t be outdoor entertainment, it’s just got to be in the application, she said.
Cropsey said the specificity would be coming from Raza.
But that specificity should have been included as part of the Altamont Corners’ application, if Thomas were looking for some kind of approval, Phillips said.
But Cropsey was hung up on the word “no” in the planning board’s condition.
After continuing to insist on taking the word out of the resolution, the planning board relented.
The condition now reads, “Outdoor entertainment, including but not limited to entertainment using amplified noise, shall not be allowed in the expansion area unless such use is approved by the planning board as an amendment to the occupying tenants special-use permit.”
Where Cropsey offered “may be,” Phillips countered with “shall not be.”
“I’ll just reiterate for the record … With this approval, there is no outdoor entertainment with amplified music allowed until [Raza] comes in and gets that approved as part of their special use permit,” Phillips said.
On the new language in the condition, Thomas said, “I think we can live with that. And I’m looking forward to proceed to build the beautiful addition that fits into the architectural vernacular of Altamont and to enhance it.”
Thomas on Tuesday had sent a letter to the board expressing dismay with the condition the board changed at Cropsey’s request.
“It is imperative that legislation not be implemented to block our project for cultured deck entertainment within Altamont’s Central Business District,” Thomas wrote. “If such restrictions were to be planned, I would not consider investing the amount of money needed to build such a quality structure that fits within the village of Altamont’s unique architectural atmosphere.”