NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Planning Commission got a peek at (and in most cases a voice in) a series of new additions planned for the city during a Feb. 17 meeting.
Planners approved a special use permit request from Ben Smock for a restaurant outdoor seating area for the yet-to-open Hummingbird Lounge at 9 South Barton St.
City Building Official Ted Hanson said a special use permit is required for an outside seating area
In his application Smock said an existing restaurant and Class C liquor license were arched purchased – the outdoor service area will include a 19-by-19-foot deck and patio area surrounded by decorative fencing.
The application states that the plan is to open the Hummingbird Lounge (a cocktail lounge and restaurant) in the spring of 2021 complete with an outdoor seating area designed to be a “lush garden.”
During the meeting Smock said the group that bought the former Sage Bistro property are working through the approval process with City Building Official Ted Hanson and his team.
Planners then approved the overall site plan for the Hummingbird Lounge.
Among the features of the site plan mentioned were a six-foot wood privacy fence to separate the restaurant from the public and surrounding properties with passionfruit and/or black-eyed Susan vines on the south side of the property, and a three-foot fence in the north side with some shrubberies.
It also was noted that the overflow parking lot at the intersection of Whittaker and Buffalo streets is within 300 feet.
In another Feb. 17 matter, planners OK’d a site plan for the Beer Church, 36 South Whittaker St., to add additional outdoor seating.
The site plan request was made by Kyle Kuipers of Rockford Construction, Grand Rapids, on behalf of owners Jane Simon and John Lustina.
Kuipers said the project is an expansion of the existing outdoor area at the Beer Church “which is about 1,980 square feet that is an elevated deck.”
He said the deck would add about 60 seats and include a small beverage bar area which includes a small roof and Edison light string bulbs on both levels.
“The overall architectural character of it really kind of goes with what was there already. They already have a really nice outdoor eating patio with some tall wood timbers and … a stone fireplace.”
In response to a question, Kuipers said the plan is expected to result in the loss of one or two parking spots, adding that they believe there is ample parking nearby to meet the need.
Planners did raise the concern that the current parking lot at the Whittaker-Buffalo intersection could someday be sold – a possibility they agreed would have an impact far beyond the Beer Church.
Lustina said he would be happy to extend an existing “for the good of the city” lease on the parking lot beyond the next year.
Kuipers said a second stairway to the deck is being discussed after being asked if that was required by code (which the project will have to meet before being constructed).
William Lenga, a neighbor of both the Hummingbird and Beer Church sites, said he supports both requests.
He said the Beer Church owners have been “incredibly good neighbors” and said he also has had a good relationship with the owners of the Hummingbird so far.
And planners approved a site plan application request from Neena Vlamis of Chicago for construction of a new A&N Mortgage office building at 120 West Buffalo St.
Planning Commission member (and architect) William McCollum presented the proposal for “the first office building in New Buffalo in quite a long time.” (He would later abstain from the 4-0 approval vote).
He noted that A&N Mortgage has an existing office in Chicago.
McCollum said the site is vacant except for an existing one-story concrete block building in the back corner (it will be used for “inactive storage” and painted up “to make it look nice”).
“The new building will be on the opposite corner right off of Buffalo Street, adjacent to the Go Lo gas station,” he said.
McCollum said the property will be well landscaped, with lighting designed to not shine into neighboring homes, a solid wood fence around the trash enclosure area, six enclosed offices with an open work space and a conference room in a “clock tower” design element, a garden and patio leading to the front entrance, four indoor and four outdoor parking spaces, and a design that is a mix between commercial and residential.
Hanson said the wall that will be five feet from the gas station (allowed under a recently granted variance) has to be fire rated, adding that the fire chief has reviewed the plans.
Near the conclusion of the meeting, McCollum made a presentation on long-term plans and options for the building at 1 North Whittaker St. that formerly housed the Grand Variety store and still has a pharmacy as a tenant along with three other spaces. He said the client is working with Holiday Properties, which has hired him to do drawings on a design to put outdoor seating along North Whittaker Street “kind of like a cafe.”
McCollum said one possible design creates more outside space in front of the building. While another has some of the seating in the public way and pulls the front of the building back less. All plans would give the entire structure a new more modern look.
“We presented this to the City Council yesterday, and this is just for information. We’re not looking for a decision to be made, but if enough people say ‘this kind of works, maybe we should consider this.’”
McCollum said some outdoor dining in public areas has been allowed due to the pandemic, and said more could “liven up the downtown.” He said the next step is to go to the Downtown Development Authority and get their consensus.
McCollum said there is a restaurateur interested in the project who needs about 5,000 square feet of space.
“The other thing we’re trying to do is open up the corner so there’s a nicer sense of arrival in the downtown,” he said.
Mayor John Humphrey said he is supportive of the project and of increasing outdoor dining throughout Whittaker Street, adding that parking is the concern of a majority of the City Council.
“But know that we are working on parking solutions and protecting our current parking that we do have,” he added.