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After 3+ Hours, American Flatbread Denied Patio Seating

by ARLnow.com — July 12, 2010 at 7:48 am 1,664 8 Comments

It took nearly three and a half hours for the Arlington County Board to squash any hope of outdoor patio seating at American Flatbread.

Board members repeatedly reassured owner Scott Vasko that Flatbread was exactly the type of business that Arlington County is trying to attract. In the end, however, promises made to local homeowners in 2004 were upheld, and a patio between the restaurant and an adjacent house will remain an undeveloped “buffer zone.”

In a concession to Flatbread, the board granted the more lenient of two possible scenarios for sidewalk seating in front of the Clarendon restaurant. Flatbread will be allowed to set up tables on 25 feet of sidewalk in front of 11th Street North (the other scenario called for 15 feet). Combined with sidewalk seating also approved for North Fillmore Street, Flatbread will likely have a total of four outdoor tables and 10 seats. The patio could have sat 24.

Numerous local homeowners spoke out against Flatbread’s patio request at the board meeting, although most also voiced support for sidewalk seating. Of the dozen speakers on the issue, only 25% spoke in favor of patio seating.

As part of the board’s action, Screwtop Wine Bar was also granted sidewalk seating, which should allow for 3-4 tables outside the restaurant. Like Flatbread, Screwtop is located in the ZoSo building at 1025 North Fillmore Street.

In addition to sidewalk seating, Fillmore Street may soon be getting some signage. To help attract customers to the off-the-main-drag strip of shops and restaurants, the board paved the way for on-building “blade” signs and sidewalk-level sandwich board-style signs to win approval at a subsequent board meeting.

“I am concerned that this small business needs some help in ensuring that enough people use his business,” board member Barbara Favola said. “I’m also concerned that Arlington really balance as well as we can our desire to have some kind of street life to encourage that urban character we talk about. This is an urban area, and I have to admit that people should expect some activity in this part of the county.”

At the end of the discussion, which began at 9:00 a.m. and wrapped up in time for a late lunch, board chairman Jay Fisette lamented that the developer of the ZoSo building didn’t try to set up an area for patio seating before its initial design was approved. Fisette, speaking for himself, suggested that an outside courtyard surrounded by 7 foot walls could have been quiet and unobtrusive enough to pass muster, had it been built into the original plan.

Vasko, Flatbread’s owner, has not responded to a request for comment.

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  • Mike

    Serves Vasko right for trusting Ed Peete.

  • Lou

    It was clear the Board was pretty upset at the owner/developer for the way the tenants were mislead. However, it was the correct decision, and it was good to see that the Board refrained from trying to be the ones to mitigate Flatbread’s hardship by acting against the original proffer terms.

  • Jen

    With no vested interest in this saga, and based upon what I’ve read online, I think the right decision was made — if everything I read was true. If the original agreement between the county and the developer was for that to be a buffer — then it should.

    This sounds like a messy issue between the developer and the tenant.

  • Katie

    What “hardship”? Give me a break.

    • Lou

      According to Flatbread’s owner, they leased approximately 600sf more than needed because the prospect of patio seating expanded their business plan. If the rate is, say $30sf (a guess but probably within reason), that’s $180,000 over the term of his lease. He’s stuck with that.

  • charlie

    the board did make the right decision.
    the business owner was wrong to trust Ed Peete
    the neighbors are smug in their victory in keeping fun out of Clarendon.
    it was the neighbors who wanted all that retail there in the first place. but they weren’t given the chance to say exactly what kind of retail. now you know — they don’t want retail that others will actually go to.

  • Sarah

    Actually, it was not neighbors who asked for retail. The original building was supposed to have condominium office space. The switch to retail was done outside of the public process. Had that been discussed in a public forum, I think American Flatbread would have been better off since some of the seating issues would have been anticipated at that time. I don’t think anyone was trying to keep fun out of Clarendon. After all, this is an area off the main streets where residents have a clearer expectation of calm. The developer acted in bad faith in asking for changes to the plan outside of the public process, and continued to do so when marketing the space to retailers. That’s unfortunate, but not the fault of the neighbors who made a number of concessions and agreements at the time the building was planned.

    • Tom

      The people living around there were not monolithic in what they wanted or didn’t want. The developer was monolithic, however and did not want to build anything other than residential. Many neighbors wanted significant (1 or more stories) of office, many wanted small retail along Fillmore, continuing what the self storage building had. It was discussed at the meetings because the developer said he wouldn’t be able to attract “Prime Retail” on that sidestreet and the response was often that perhaps that was a good thing and he could attract small, independent retail OR professional offices (dentists, realtor, insurance, etc). A coffee shop was explicity asked for at the corner. But, it was clear that all along the intent of the backyard was to be a buffer and not active.

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