Restaurant Gains Approval for Winter Club Site
After more than a year of meetings and negotiations to turn the long-shuttered former Madison Winter Club into a new upscale eatery, the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) approved the project on Nov. 16. According to town records, the new business will be called the Madison Oyster House and will be located on the same site as the Winter Club at 351 Boston Post Road.
The applicant, Frasher Lulaj, is also the owner of the much beloved La Foresta restaurant in Killingworth, had been diligently contending for the PZC to rezone the 2.3-acre property that would allow for the establishment of another restaurant on the site. According to town records, Lulaj purchased the former social and dining club for $1.185 million with the hopes of rehabbing it into an upscale steak and seafood establishment.
According to statements at the PZC meeting, there will be few changes to the property, the exception being a proposal to restore the original cedar siding on the historic structure built in 1838. The new proposal calls for 65 spaces parking spaces on the property and the closing off of several entrances and exits to the property, as well as a conversion of an upper portion of the structure into a residential unit.
The proposal initially caused concern among some residents who misunderstood a rather nuanced zoning provision called a Planned Development District (PDD), which allows a developer to petition a municipality for an exemption to a project under a limited set of criteria.
Some residents feared that the approval of a PDD would open the door to wholesale changes in the zoning regulations and the permitting of large-scale development in other areas. While it is correct that a “text amendment” to allow for a PDD designation would, in theory, allow other applicants to seek a PDD exemption for other parcels under that same text change, the designation of a PDD is not an automatic approval of any specific development proposal and does not offer a guarantee to a developer that any particular project will eventually be greenlighted.
It simply creates a process by which a developer who is seeking approval for a project otherwise not permitted under a specific zone to request the PZC to take a second look.
According to zoning officials, this specific PDD exemption is for the Winter Club site, which is a single exemption to a specific property that factors in proposals that can successfully demonstrate that they align with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and all other zoning regulations.
According to town officials, only a handful of properties in the entire town are seeking to submit applications under a text amendment PDD provision. Those include a long-planned project on two parcels located off of New Road near exit 62 of Interstate 95 and the property of the former Winter Club.
Town Planner Erin Mannix and her department worked extensively on this proposal to ensure its conformity and to solidify that all aspects of the project were within the parameters of zoning regulations.
“The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the zoning map amendment and master plan for the designation of the property as a Planned Development District PDD. The commission found that the conversion of the Winter Club to a 150-seat restaurant with a residential unit above to be an appropriate re-use of the building,” Mannix said. “Now that the floating zone has been approved, the applicant may move forward with a site plan application.”
Mannix added that the proposal will have a number of positive benefits for the town, not the least of which is as an economic driver.
“Historic resources will be protected on site, and this project will provide appropriate economic development for the area. Benefits include employment, tax revenue, housing, and a much-desired full-service restaurant in town,” said Mannix.