Commercial Record

Wicks owner contests city seating cap

By Scott Sullivan
Editor
The owner of a downtown restaurant/bar unhappy with Saugatuck Planning Commission-imposed seating limits on her proposed back addition is seeking court redress for it — and then some.
Wicks Park Bar & Grill owner Christine Murphy Pierce filed a May 3 appeal in Allegan County Circuit seeking to increase seating for her planned Cottages at Wicks Park, at 121 Mary St. behind her 449 Water St. main establishment, from 25 total as now stands — to 77 outdoors (60 seated, 10 standing and 7 employees) plus 51 indoors (38 seated, 8 standing and 5 employees). That would be 128 total, five-plus times as much.
Wait, there’s more. Pierce through attorney Patrick Drueke also wants the city to pay her legal fees and keep Cottage open hours from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily. In an April 21 appeal she told planners she’d cut open hours back to 10 p.m. if they’d allow more seating, but then rejected their compromise of 25 indoor and 25 outdoor, total 50, still an unsustainable business number she said.
The commission stood by its 25-25 motion, so lacking mutual consent the earlier 25 total seat limit stands.
Planners first weighed Pierce’s special use and preliminary building requests Feb. 17 and heard several neighbors’ opposition.
“The Cottage will be more quiet and intimate than the bar and grill,” she told planners that night. “Right now the house and alley are disgusting. Our goal is to clean them up, generate more revenue from our property and improve downtown in the process.”
Neighbors were less sure. “This,” said Catherine Simon, whose Maplewood Hotel abuts Pierce’s combined parcel on the east side, “would have a very negative impact on my business, the Ivy Inn, Marywood Manor (now Summer Fun Cottages), Wickwood, the Inn of Saugatuck and even Judson Heath” (all nearby lodging businesses).
“How does adding one business balance against damaging multiple others?” Simon asked.
“Christine has made a lot of promises,” Inn of Saugatuck owner Jane Verplank, like Simon a former mayor, said. “She has a very, very poor track record on noise. She moves bands inside but leaves windows open, and they play not until 11 p.m. but 12:30 a.m.
“Didn’t she see those four B&B’s that surround her?” Verplank continued. “We sell sleep. How does her plan fit with that?”
“It’s a case of one person’s rights coming up against others’,” commission chair Dan Fox noted
Members tabled acting that night, seeking more information from the applicant plus a Saugatuck Township Fire District assessment regarding emergency access there.
Fox declined to open a scheduled follow-up public hearing March 17 to weigh design tweaks proposed by Pierce, saying, “We’ve seen like six different assemblages of information on this proposal. I have questions about the propriety of submitting changed plans right before our meetings.”
“I’m not satisfied,” commission member and council liaison Russ Gardner added, “that this site plan meets our requirements.
“Once we receive one that is complete, we can get on addressing neighbors’ concerns about occupancy, noise and so on,” Gardner added.
At the rescheduled hearing four nights later, the commission approved Pierce’s use with conditions that total building and patio occupancy be no more than 25, hours a maximum 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., plus noise restrictions including no amplified music, outdoor speakers nor percussion instruments. A proposed fence had to be lowered from 10 to 8 feet.
Pierce replied she could not make the add-on viable nor supply local demand with that seating limit.
Drueke, seeking an amendment to those conditions, wrote planners April 14 that the condition imposed was arbitrary and did not comport with zoning laws requiring use limitation be reasonable and necessary.
His 4-page letter requested the body amend its conditions to allow 38 indoor and 60 outdoor seats in exchange for the scaled-back hours and enhanced sound buffers.
At the commission’s fourth go-round April 21, members heard Pierce, Drueke and others speak, while Gardner noted seats and occupancy are not the same thing, i.e. what about people standing and/or dancing?
With the 25-25 offer rejected, “our next step is court,” Pierce said. It is not uncommon in pre-court negotiations for both sides to make concessions towards a mean all can live with, but whether that happens or not is still down the road.

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