CITY HALL — It was a “win some, lose some” night at the Landmarks Commission for city officials as commissioners made final rulings Monday on two ongoing sagas — the Chez Jay restaurant and “Chain Reaction” statue.
In both cases, officials advocated for changes to the designation of the ground underneath the two landmarks, first to allow for a trash enclosure that was already under construction near the Chez Jay restaurant and second for a smaller area around the “Chain Reaction” statue.
Commissioners went along with the 430-square-foot trash enclosure adjacent to the restaurant, albeit with some hesitance.
Preliminary utilities work for the enclosure had begun long before the Chez Jay restaurant came up for consideration by the Landmarks Commission, but above-ground construction of the block structure took off after the designation was awarded on Oct. 8.
That raised red flags for restaurant proprietors and their attorney, Kenneth Kutcher, who sent off a series of letters over the next two weeks protesting the action and city staff’s attempt to appeal the original landmark designation.
Officials dropped the appeal and snagged a spot at the Nov. 12 commission meeting to get a final ruling by Landmarks.
The request was a strange one — officials asked that commissioners move forward with the hearing as though they had violated city rules by building the trash enclosure after the landmark designation had been awarded.
If commissioners chose to deny the request, however, staff had already reserved the option to move forward as though it had the right to build the trash enclosure, said Heidi von Tongeln, a deputy city attorney.
Putting off a final decision on the property would have additional consequences, said Martin Pastucha, director of Public Works with City Hall.
“Delays in a decision will impact taxpayer dollars,” Pastucha said. “Disruption in the schedule will result in delay claims from the contractor back to the city.”
Commissioners didn’t necessarily object to the trash enclosure on its face, but felt they’d been painted into a corner.
Approval was “premature,” said Commissioner Nina Fresco, but there wasn’t much else to be done.
“I don’t know where we can go with it, because it’s already there and seems pretty clear it’s going to stay there no matter what we decide,” she said.
Commissioner Ruthann Lehrer said it was time for the commission to “move on.”
They did. The vote to effectively ignore the existence of the enclosure for the purposes of the landmark was unanimous, although John Berley recused himself.
In the case of “Chain Reaction,” however, commissioners held firm.
The 26-foot-tall statue designed by three-time Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Paul Conrad received its landmark designation on July 9, but commissioners asked for staff to come back with a recommendation on the area around the parcel.
That’s traditionally done to give the commission input on things put near the landmark that could impact it, like buildings or, in this case, a potential buffer to encompass and protect the statue, Kutcher said.
Staff pushed for an 18-foot radius circle around the statue, a common practice for landmarks that fall outside of the traditional realm of buildings, said Scott Albright, a planner with City Hall.
“It’s the way we’ve always handled unique landmarks in the past, like trees,” Albright said.
“Chain Reaction” is in the clear in terms of its landmark status, but its fate is still up in the air.
The statue requires potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of repairs, and the City Council gave supporters six months to find the money or risk the loss of the statue outright.
That six months is up as of Nov. 15, but there’s no indication that the City Council intends to take the issue up immediately.