Gateway Approves Outdoor Restaurant Application, Outlines Further Issues for Old Saybrook Zoning

The Connecticut River Gateway Commission approved Smoke on the Water, a proposed 300-seat outdoor restaurant in Old Saybrook, but agreed to send a letter to the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission outlining a number of concerns outside of Gateway’s jurisdiction.

The Zoning Commission is scheduled to consider the project at a public hearing on May 3.

Torrance Downes, who serves as senior planner at Gateway, explained in an email to CT Examiner that such issues as ambient smoke, days and hours of operation, noise levels, traffic and the other details are under the jurisdiction of the town’s Zoning Commission rather than the state-local compact that overseas protection of the Lower Connecticut River Valley.

“In the comment letter Gateway has instructed me to write, I will mention all of those concerns and say that, although they aren’t a part of Gateway’s authority, Gateway would like to stress that the zoning commission pay close attention to those concerns and do their utmost to condition any approval to minimize those concerns,” said Downes. 

Attorney Matt Willis spoke for Gateway at the April 22 meeting to explain that the mission of Gateway is to preserve and protect the viewshed of the eight member towns — Chester, Deep River, East Haddam, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook — on and along the Connecticut River.

A review by Gateway considers the natural and traditional river scene, including the development pattern of the area, building height, density and setbacks, said Willis.

In this case, the long-standing commercial development of the restaurant property at Saybrook Point was key to approval, said Downes. 

“This is one of the probably three most public and used sites in the lower Connecticut River. There already is a hotel, two marinas, and there’s the very public pavilion and golf course, and there was a restaurant there. So, the context of where this thing will sit is a lot different than in other parts of the river valley,” Downes said. 

Also a consideration was a prior approval by Gateway of a variance to construct a 42-foot high restaurant on the site. The current plan includes two permanent structures — a pavilion that will measure 26.5 feet to the top of the cupola and a small electrical platform. 

The commission voted 8 to 1 to approve the project, with Jerry Roberts, representing Deep River, as the sole nay vote. The decision, Downes said, is specific to Old Saybrook and will not affect other towns nor set a precedent if a similar project proposed in another town.

The Gateway approval came one day after the Old Saybrook Planning Commission approved the project in a 3-2 vote. On March 22, the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission approved a regulation petition to permit outdoor restaurants in the Saybrook Point District. Still pending is a review of detailed drawings by the town’s Architectural Review Board that will be considered at its May 10 meeting.

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