‘A lot more moving parts,’ Old Saybrook Official Says of Restaurant Approval

OLD SAYBROOK — A zoning text amendment change is one of three approvals needed for Smoke on the Water, an outdoor restaurant proposed for the former Dock and Dine site at 145 College St. 

Christina Costa, zoning enforcement officer for the town, said the text amendment on the Zoning Commission agenda tonight must receive approval and an effective date must be set before the commission can consider the applicant’s request for a special exception for an outdoor restaurant. 

“You can’t approve the special exception without the regulation being approved first,” said Costa.

The applicant, Jon Kodama, owner of the Dock & Dine, and chef Colt Taylor have proposed a 300-seat outdoor restaurant created with eight trailers equipped for specific purposes — food preparation, bar service, restrooms, refrigeration and storage. Food would be cooked in two charcoal smokers on site. In the case of a declared storm, the trailers, tables and other equipment would be required to be towed to safe ground. 

The special exception application specifies that operations will be seasonal between April and November for a maximum of 180 days, seven days a week.   

The project must also receive a flood permit since the site is in a VE zone, a coastline area subject to an annual one percent or greater chance of flooding and may include additional hazards due to storm-induced velocity wave action. 

The town has a floodplain ordinance in place in order to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. However, a 180-day outdoor restaurant use is not currently allowed in the ordinance. 

“Participating in the NFIP is voluntary, however, if the town chooses not to participate in the NFIP and have at least the minimum minimal model ordinance in place for flood permits and building flood compliant structures, then residents in Old Saybrook do not qualify to get flood insurance through FEMA,” Costa said. 

The proposal would not negate residents’ ability to qualify for flood insurance through FEMA, Costa said, it is simply outside of the standard municipal model provided by FEMA. 

The proposal would allow the applicant to place trailers, equipment and tables below the flood elevation and to move them out in the event of the storm, she said.

“The applicants need to remove all of the trailers, all of the tables, all of the equipment and restore the site to a vacant site because their structures are not flood compliant. So things like picnic tables, if the proposal is wood picnic tables, they float. So this is where it’s very complex,” she said. 

The town is working with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on the floodplain issue, she said. 

At the March 9 Board of Selectmen meeting, the applicant discussed the possibility of a text amendment to the floodplain ordinance and will return at a later date with revised text for the board to consider. 

“At that point, the Board of Selectmen would choose if they want to endorse this to go to a town meeting for adoption,” said Costa. 

Costa said the zoning text amendment must be approved before the special exception application can be considered, and if the floodplain ordinance is not approved then the project cannot proceed. 

“You would think that having an application to bring some trailers to a lot for 180 days to have an outdoor restaurant would be simple, but it’s a lot more complex and there’s a lot more moving parts that we’re all reviewing,” she said.

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