Tivoli's proposed enclosed awning ruffles feathers

When Franco Zuluaga erected an awning out from his restaurant on the south end of Main Street in New Milford, creating a patio effect, there was no controversy.

Then Mr. Zuluaga requested adding side enclosure to the awning at Tivoli restaurant and other businessowners in downtown took offense.

"When the awning went up, this started out as seasonal seating," said Joseph Pesente, who owns the building on Railroad Street where Milano's Restaurant is located. "Now they're asking to increase seating to year-round with this enclosure. Why should this business' owner be given a free pass to increase seating permanently?"

Will Mr. Zuluaga be reassessed for sewer fees and business taxes? Mr. Pesente asked.

The answer to these two questions was "yes," according to Zoning Enforcement Officer Laura Regan.

At a Nov. 5 public hearing before the Zoning Commission, Mr. Pesente raised concerns about fire safety if panels were to be closed to outside egress to the patio area. Would customers have to go into the building in order to exit the site in the event of a fire in the kitchen that required evacuation?

Would Mr. Zuluaga plan to put a heater and lighting under the awning to increase the times of year the patio area could be used? What are the safety issues? Mr. Pesente asked.

Bill Ginty, representing Mr. Zuluaga, told zoners the enclosed patio area would be used at the end of fall and in the spring, not in the middle of winter, with the enclosure panels coming down in the warm spring, summer and fall seasons.

As for heating and lighting of the enclosed patio space, Mr. Ginty said he would have to get back to the zoners about that issue.

Fire Marshal Karen Facey said Monday her office and the building inspector had raised the same questions regarding egress, heating and lighting.

"If zoning approves the request, we would then do a review and work through any fire or building code issues," Ms. Facey said, "to assure the project meets all local and state codes."

For zoner Bill Taylor, too many questions were left unanswered Nov. 5. He required plans in writing on what the seasonal aspect of keeping the enclosed patio area open meant, and asked for lighting plans and plans on heating and egress.

"If presented as it is now, we will have to deny," Mr. Taylor said, "because not all of the information we require to make a decision is in."

The public hearing was kept open, to be continued Nov. 17.