Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Former West Ward Club Gets Approval to Become Deli

By Christina Georgiou

Architect Jeff Martinson, right, with property owner
Peter Tomino, present plans to the Easton Zoning
Hearing Board Monday night to convert the former
Weston Club into a delicatessen and neighborhood
convenience store. An application to use the lower
level of the building as a rental party hall was
withdrawn and may be presented at a later date.
The former Weston Club, located at 1317 Lehigh St., got the approval of the city's zoning hearing board 3-2 to become a delicatessen and neighborhood convenience store Monday night, but applicant Peter Tomino will have to reapply to the board to convert the building's lower level into a rental facility for parties seating up to 75 people. Tomino withdrew his request to operate the party room after board members indicated his business plan for the lower level was "underdeveloped."

Architect Jeff Martinson outlined Tomino's plans to turn the upper level into a store that would serve the needs of the surrounding community, selling basic grocery items, made-to-order sandwiches and other to-go foods, beer, tobacco, and other sundries.

Plans for the store space include indoor seating for about 15 people, the addition of small decks in both the front and the rear of the building, and reconfiguring the rear parking lot along Spruce Street to accomodate a total of 22 vehicles instead of the current 20 spaces.

Deliveries would be received in the back of the building, Martinson said.

Plans for the main level of the former Weston Club include
seating for 15 people.
Click on any image for a full size view.
Tomino said the front and rear decks will each include seating for a few people, which he envisions neighborhood patrons can use to enjoy food and beverages purchased in his new establishment in nice weather.

Tomino promised the zoning hearing board that while he does intend to sell six-packs of beer for take-out, no one will be allowed to consume alcohol on the premises, even if and when the board gives approval for the lower level of the building to be rented out for parties, weddings, and events.

Board members expressed unease at granting the request to use the lower level for a party hall, saying Tomino lacked a solid vision for the space and they had concerns about parking, despite Tomino's willingness to attach another 30 or so parking spaces that he owns, located about a block away, to the project.

"I think this needs to be presented in a more concrete plan," said the board's chairman, Michael Civitella.

No parking variance is necessary for the neighborhood convenience store use, noted board solicitor Robert Nitchkey, and both Tomino and Martinson said they expect the majority of customers will be pedestrians from the surrounding neighborhood.

The store will employ a staff of about four people, and if the plan for the party hall is later granted, the store's kitchen facilities will be able to provide catering for the downstairs space as well, Tomino said. No variances are necessary for the kitchen itself, as the  facility already exists, having been part of the former Weston Club.

The part of the application for a variance to use the
basement level of the former Weston Club as a rental
party hall was withdrawn, but
may be submitted again at a later date,  once renovations
to the main level are completed, property owner
Peter Tomino said.
About six neighbors of the former club attended the hearing, and two expressed concern about the plans.

Both said they felt the new use would generate too much noise, create parking problems, and attract unsavory elements to the neighborhood.

"We're trying to create walkable neighborhoods (in Easton)," Martinson said. "This is part of trying to provide something in the neighborhood as a gathering place...instead of Wawa, to buy a cup of coffee in the morning. We should be integrating things like this back into our neighborhoods."

Tomino said he plans to be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

He added he hopes to open the new business in about six months, after construction work to convert the property is complete. He will reapply for the variance to use the lower level as a rental hall at some future date, but he said he wasn't sure when that would be.

"Probably not until after I get the store open," he said.

Also Monday night, the zoning hearing board approved a variance for a 29 square foot sign for Two Rivers Brewing Company along South Sixth Street, a special exception to allow the establishment of a tobacco and smoke shop at 700D Philadelphia Road in the city's South Side neighborhood, and a special exception an lot area variance to convert a mixed-use building at 134 South Second St. back to a single family dwelling with the provision that a small kitchenette area on the second floor be removed to prevent the building from possibly being easily converted into a multi-residence rental dwelling in the future.

Proprietors Carolyn Krouse of Easton and Travis McNally of Phillipsburg, NJ, said they expect to be able to open the South Side Smoke Shop in about four months, after interior construction is complete and a certificate of occupancy and other necessary permitting for the shop is obtained from the city.

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