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Pine Plains restaurant planning French cuisine stirs strife

PINE PLAINS — Whether they stood in full support or staunch opposition to a restaurant backed by local businessman and community advocate Jack Banning, owner of The Platter café; President of The Stissing Center Board of Directors; co-owner of Black Sheep Hill Farm (with his wife, Irene); and President of KTB Properties LLC; more than 40 people tuned in for a virtual Zoom Planning Board public hearing on Wednesday, June 9. 

The hearing was focused on a site plan application from KTB Properties for a restaurant at 2938 Church St., which has turned out to be more controversial than some would have anticipated.

It’s the third time KTB has appeared before the Planning Board, according to Banning, the applicant behind the project that entails the re-opening of a restaurant at the former New Age Diner, the last eatery at the site, which opened in August 2018. Others may remember previous incarnations of restaurants there in the last 30 years, including the popular Crumpets, Agriturismo and Tops Diner.

Banning now has plans for KTB to rent the space to former and much loved Stissing House chef/owners Michel and Patricia Jean, “to be operated as a restaurant serving primarily French food for dinner five nights a week and brunch on Sundays.” 

Along with limited outdoor dining in the backyard, the site plan application includes no new construction, no hazardous materials on site and an on-site septic system with a grease trap.

The Jeans closed Stissing House in January after 15 years of business, much to the disappointment of many in the Tri-state region, hitting both the local culinary scene and economy hard. The proposal for their new restaurant, to be named Champetre, received an outpouring of support with more than 70 letters in its favor submitted to the Planning Board.

“Their new project will be a great addition to Pine Plains, and the wonderful cultural birth that is slowly growing in the area,” wrote Pine Plains residents Guillaume and Andrea Cuvelier. “Although some neighbors may be disheartened by the development of Pine Plains, allowing certain businesses in the downtown district will be beneficial for the entire community.”

Noting the restaurant would also serve visitors of the adjacent Stissing Center, a performing arts center that draws from the entire Tri-state region, Pine Plains resident Janet Zimmerman likewise supported the venture.  

“Now that COVID is on the wane, dining and theater going will be a boon to Pine Plains’ economy, employ local residents and entice visitors to the central business district in Pine Plains,” she stated.

Banning asked the Planning Board for authorization to continue “what is a use for this property since roughly 1994 as a restaurant.” 

At a Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, May 26, Banning said KTB requested an extension for a non-conforming use, only to learn later it wasn’t a continuation of a non-conforming use since a restaurant had not operated there for more than a year, largely due to the pandemic. 

Banning said the landlord tried to rent it during that period, and while the building was vacant, it wasn’t abandoned in any way as “the attempt was to continue to have someone take it over as a restaurant.”

Banning bought the property and submitted a site plan application to the board, which was deemed acceptable according to the Environmental Impact Statement done under the required State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). 

But a neighboring property owner objected, and the public hearing was postponed. 

Since then, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) approved the site to seat 23 and approved the septic; minor alterations and some interior work were also completed.

Longtime Pine Plains residents and neighbors Bill and Patti Hollick issued the complaint through their attorney, Wayne Thompson. Thompson submitted two letters opposing the project on behalf of his clients; he said because the last restaurant shut down in 2019, KTB’s request needed to be considered a new application. 

Among the Hollicks’ concerns were a lack of setbacks, landscape screening, sound screening or light screening listed on the application — all of which directly impacts them as neighbors.

Given how close their property is to the restaurant’s backyard, Patti Hollick later said they won’t have privacy in their yard. She added the couple can see, hear and smell everything going on in the restaurant’s backyard and vice versa for the restaurant’s clientele. 

Meanwhile, her husband questioned why the Planning Board isn’t following local zoning laws.

“The zoning laws are not being followed; it’s a non-conforming lot, a non-conforming use,” he said. “We should be reimbursed for our legal fees because you are not following the zoning laws.”

Though he empathized with the Hollicks, Pine Plains resident John Henry Low, who submitted a letter in support of the project, said the couple purchased their property in 1999 and knew what they were getting into because they previously rented the property in question.

“There are people in our town who need work,” Low said. “COVID has been extraordinarily difficult for a lot of us and especially people who work in the restaurant business… and your objection to this is holding up the work for these people’s livelihoods.”

Drawing from the difficulties he encountered earlier this year with moving a site plan application forward, Nelson Zayas, co-founder of Willow Roots food pantry, said he hopes Banning can get a clear answer on what must be done to get approval.

Having worked as the bartender at The Stissing House, Tracie Hermann said she formed many strong relationships with the former guests the Jeans’ last restaurant in the last six years and was touched and humbled by the support the couple received pursuing this new venture. She said she remains loyal to the pair “she loves,” and hopes to return to work for them at their new restaurant.

Reviewing the site plan, Planning Board members talked with Banning about different components described in the project narrative and what measures could be taken to resolve issues surrounding the Hollicks’ concerns. 

The public hearing adjourned at 9:34 p.m. with plans to continue the matter on Wednesday, June 23, at 7:45 p.m.

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