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Hartford Seeks Zoning Changes To Aid Pond House Cafe

BILL LEUKHARDT

August 18, 2009

WEST HARTFORD - The Pond House Cafe at Elizabeth Park, which found itself at the center of a zoning battle between Hartford and West Hartford from 2001 to 2004, is again the focus of the two municipal governments.

Hartford owns Elizabeth Park and its showpiece garden, which straddles both municipalities. The city wants to revise West Hartford zoning rules for the special district within the park that allows the Pond House Cafe to do business near the park's signature rose gardens.

Hartford wants permission to seek a beer and wine license for the Pond House, end weekend valet service at the restaurant, allow the restaurant to cater off-site events and close the park entrance at Walbridge Road.

"The goal is to improve service and functionality and provide a better business footing for the Pond House," David Panagore, Hartford's chief operating officer, said Friday. "We look forward to a series of conversations with everyone to reach an accord that makes sense with everybody."

Town officials received Hartford's request July 31 and scheduled hearings on it. Ronald Van Winkle, West Hartford's town manager, said Monday that Hartford has indicated it hopes to avoid problems this time around by working with the town and park neighbors.

The proposed revisions will be discussed Sept. 22 at a public hearing before the town council at 6:15 p.m. in Room 314 of West Hartford Town Hall.

Town council members made no comments Aug. 11 when they set the public hearing date. The request will be reviewed by other town agencies prior to the hearing. The town's plan and zoning commission will discuss the request on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. in town hall.

The city; the Friends of Elizabeth Park, which oversees the restaurant; and the corporation that operates the Pond House need West Hartford's approval to adjust any use set forth for Special Development District 15, which contains the Pond House.

In the application request sent to West Hartford, the city says no physical changes are sought for any building or any grounds in the special district.

The rules that Hartford seeks to modify took effect in 2004 at the end of a sometimes- contentious zoning process in which the town and city debated several questions, including allowing a commercial venture and permitting alcohol in a park.

The issue which included a lawsuit filed by Hartford against West Hartford in 2001 over zoning restrictions was settled by an agreement making the park road at Walbridge Road one-way into Elizabeth Park, adding parking spaces to the Pond House, requiring valet parking on weekends May through August and allowing restaurant patrons to bring their own wine to drink.

Hartford wants permission for the Pond House to seek a wine and beer license from the state to help the restaurant better compete with similar establishments that have the state-regulated permits. There will be no bar at the Pond House, according to the request, and patrons can still bring their own wine.

Valet parking, required at weekend events May through August that have more than 100 people attending, is a service the Pond House pays for but rarely uses, according to the application.

Closing the entrance at Walbridge would stop traffic problems caused by drivers who use it as an exit, even though it is clearly marked as a one-way entrance, the application said. West Hartford police support closing that entrance, according to a note in the application.

The city also wants to allow the Pond House to provide off-site catering, a business specialty now barred by town rules.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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