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The North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals has granted Leo's Restaurant and the Arthur Wright Trust's application for a conditional use permit "to permit the conversion of a retail store to a restaurant with insufficient off-street parking." This means that the long-discussed opening of a Manhasset Leo's Restaurant will take place shortly. There has been a Leo's Restaurant in Garden City for 27 years. The Manhasset Leo's Restaurant has a 15-year lease with the Wrights for the property and the BZA put a condition on the approval which says that the conditional use permit "runs with the lease." In other words, if Leo's or the Wrights do not renew the lease at the end of the 15-year period, the conditional use permit will no longer be in effect.

The decisive factor in the board's approval may well have been the Wright family's agreeing to include the Bayview Avenue parking area in Leo's lease. This inclusion gives the restaurant 16 added parking spaces. Previously the Wrights, who have rented the spaces in that lot to commuters, had refused to include it. This is the parking lot that was in the news in August of 1997 when the Manhasset Park District considered purchasing it , via eminent domain, for additional shopper parking. The Park District abandoned its plan in the face of public objection to it, despite the fact that it had been supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations.

At the March 10 BZA hearing, Robert Baumann, attorney for Leo's, said that the restaurant would be "a benefit to the community and the highest and best use" of the property. That was the moment when he dropped the bombshell. "We are acutely aware of the parking situation as it exists," he said. "We have obtained an additional 16 spaces, which will be available all the time." Previously, the Wrights had contended that the parking spaces would become available in the evening after commuting hours.

Thomas Fitzsimmons, architect for Leo's and its owners, the Faulk brothers, then described his plans for the building. The facade will remain Tudor with stucco, he said. There will be driveway entrances from Myrtle Street and from Bayview Avenue and two entrances to the restaurant, as there had been for Wright's Hardware Store--one from Plandome Road and one from the parking lot. The floor plan shows tables to the right of the Plandome Road entrance with the bar to the left and more tables in the back. Toward the rear will be the kitchens, the rest rooms and the rubbish disposal. The restaurant will seat 150.

David Mammina, chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals, stated that he had a "little bit of a problem with the plans. The bar is very large. Is this a restaurant or a bar?" Mr. Baumann turned to James Faulk, the owner of the Garden City restaurant to reply. Mr. Faulk said that it will be very much a family restaurant. "We have 16 stools at the bar in Garden City," he said, "and this location is somewhat bigger so we decided on 20 stools. The business is 90 percent meals. He added that some people eat at the bar. "We hope to serve Manhasset as a family restaurant," he concluded.

Mr. Baumann then introduced Robert Eschbacher, a traffic consultant, who stated that he had studied the parking patterns in the area and concluded that if one included the municipal parking on Locust Street, a short walk from the restaurant, there would be ample lunchtime parking. "At dinner," he said, "the available parking is well in excess of what is needed." Mr. Eschbacher added that it is important to understand how this restaurant would operate at lunchtime, and made a comparison to the Garden City restaurant. "Not all those who eat in the restaurant are parking there," he said. "Many have other business in the area. They work in the area, shop in the area and go to the hairdresser." He concluded that you need less than half of the technically required parking spaces at lunch time."

The Wrights' attorney, Mr. John Turano, told the board that the Wrights had met with the Greater Council and noted that their main concern was the effect of the restaurant on parking at lunchtime. "Between last night and this morning, it was decided to incorporate the second lot, currently used by commuters. We felt that incorporating the lot would make the application more acceptable to the board and attractive to commuters."

Phyllis Clark president of the Greater Council, then said. "We have written letters in opposition. We're here today to change that. Our board is unanimously in favor of the present application. We believe it's a good restaurant. Our concern was never the evening. That's a very lucrative lot (Bayview Avenue) and they didn't want to give it up. This is an extraordinary move by the Wrights. If they were willing to come that far, we felt that we should take a step in their direction."

There was still opposition to come, specifically from representatives of the Plandome Road Commission, a group established under the aegis of the Manhasset Park District to explore issues affecting the Manhasset business district. Professional Engineer James Noonan showed photographs dating back to the 1940's, showing that "you can't find a parking space on Plandome Road." He added, "Leo's is a good restaurant, but you can't keep giving variances and you can't get people to walk much more than three or four hundred feet. We want stores, we like Leo's, but at what cost?" he added. "Tomorrow there will be someone else looking for a variance."

He was followed by Thomas D. Conway, attorney for the Plandome Road Commission. Mr. Conway said, "I'm here to speak for the integrity of Article 12. (This is the article in the town code which states the number of parking spaces required for various uses.) "The statute describes the standards this board must use," he said. "That statute protects the physical safety and the general welfare of the people of North Hempstead." Indicating Mr. Eschbacher, Mr. Conway said, "Eighteen months ago, this same expert testified that the parking was inadequate in this area." Mr. Conway said the exit onto Bayview Avenue is dangerous and had police statistics to prove it. He said that there are police reports of accidents at the intersection of Bayview Avenue and Plandome Road and that an exit from Leo's at that location would have an impact on public safety.

Also speaking against the application were Stephen Pinzino, attorney for Louie's Manhasset Restaurant, owner of Publican's Restaurant.

The board reserved decision but later in the day approved the application.

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