Update 11:59 a.m.:
David Marcus, who writes the "Livable Norwalk" blog, has referred to this dispute in a blog post now published as an opinion article on Norwalk Patch, Marcus says the regulation itself is causing a worse problem than the one it was meant to solve.
Update 11:33 a.m., Tuesday:
Andrew Scarella, an Internet marketing consultant, has started a petition on his blog asking that Norwalk officials allow seats at Beach Burger.
"Please sign my petition to tell the city of Norwalk to bring back the chairs and prevent this business from relocating," Scarella wrote.
So far, the petition has 17 names and four other, anonymous comments.
Original article, Monday:
When you walk into nowadays, you might notice that something is missing. No it’s not the pickle on your burger—it’s the chairs.
A notice posted on Beach Burger’s counter by owner Anthony Luciani addresses the situation:
“You may have noticed that our stools are missing and there is no where [sic] to sit. Unfortunately, we were forced by the City of Norwalk and our local competitors, more specifically, Overton’s and Harbor Lights, to remove our seating or risk being fined up to $2,500!
"Owners of Overton’s and Harbor Lights have been making daily complaints to the City of Norwalk since we opened our doors in April. Apparently, they can not handle the competition.”
The post continues: “Even though we have our two legal parking spaces, even though we have plenty of street parking, even though we have extra parking at Mr. Frosty’s, we are still forced to remove our seats.”
According to Luciani, the zoning issue centers around the fact that Beach Burger originally received zoning as a take-out restaurant, not a full-service restaurant with seating for patrons.
“To be classified as a full-service restaurant, we are required to have two legal parking spaces, which we have," Luciani said. "Street parking doesn’t count. The parking lot at Mr. Frosty’s, which I also own, doesn’t count.”
The seating in question is a counter roughly 25 feet long that stretches across the plate glass interior of the restaurant and about a dozen stools where customers can sit and enjoy their meal. While the counter remains, the stools have been removed.
Luciani says that about two weeks ago, when he received the notice from the city attorney stating that the seating had to be removed, he immediately complied, and called the zoning inspector for an inspection.
The restaurant owner says he's filing a request to have the zoning changed to permit a full service restaurant and have his two parking spaces in the rear of his building documented.
“I’ve been in contact with the Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene and we are going to schedule a meeting to get this worked out,” Luciani says. Greene could not be reached for comment.
Patch asked Overton’s and owner, Mike Gavrielidis, if he was aware of the post inside Beach Burger accusing him of being responsible for the seating being removed.
"He’s blaming me for his business being bad?" Gavrielidis chuckled, "I can’t make them remove the chairs. The city did that."
When asked if he filed complaints against Beach Burger, Gavrielidis declined to comment, suggesting that we speak to his attorney, Earl Ormond of Trumbull.
Ormond said the Gavrielidis family had legitimate concerns over the parking situation, and that’s what prompted the complaints.
He said the family has no issue with the opening of Beach Burger, and wishes them success, but felt that it was important to have clarity on the parking and zoning issues as they apply to everyone in the community.
Luciani says that Gavrielidis has been filing complaints against him since he opened in April and believes that the competition from another restaurant is really the issue at hand, not the number of parking spaces or the zoning issue.
“We are three different restaurants. We provide a gourmet burger; we have a different price point and a different atmosphere. There is room for everybody.”
Prior to the zoning-compliance issue, Luciani says that business was very good, but he acknowledges there's been a slowdown since the seating restriction has been enforced.
“Business was great during the summer but has been getting slower each day," he said. "People drive by and it looks like we’re empty—they think we’re closed.”
If business keeps up this way, Luciani may have to close Beach Burger and relocate.
“In the summer I employ 20-30 people—that’s a lot of jobs. If we don’t get our seating back, we’re going to be forced to close and move out of Norwalk.”
Editor's note: The time stamp on this article was originally 5:55 a.m. It was changed for layout purposes on the Norwalk Patch homepage.