AVON-BY-THE-SEA —The proposed restaurant project, Sylvan Hall, on the site of the old PNC Bank building at 320 Main St., received approval from the Avon planning board on June 29 after months of debate.
In addition to site plans, the planning board approved a D1 use variance for 320 Main Street, to allow the proposed restaurant to sell alcohol on the premises.
In a separate meeting, the Avon Board of Commissioners approved a seasonal liquor license for 320 Main Street Hospitality LLC. On that basis, off-season consumption of alcohol in Sylvan Hall would be limited to BYOB.
“I am literally floating right now,” said Bret Morgan, restaurateur and the “face” of 320 Main Street. “I feel like there have been so many sways back and forth … now the past few months I felt the support.”
The planning board heard comments from the public as well as closing arguments at the rescheduled meeting on Wednesday, June 29. The 20 people in the room were divided when it came to the variance for the proposed restaurant that is slated to fill the vacant bank building on the corner of Main Street and Garfield Avenue
Some of the issues raised by residents during public comment included possible problems from intoxicated patrons, limited parking and garbage issues from the smell to the noise of the recycling being loud upon pick-up.
“The scale of what you’re doing has no regard for parking and deliveries. It is unacceptable,” said Avon resident Kerry McGovern. “All of this has resulted in an impossible situation. Please do the job you were charged to do and put the safety of the kids and quality of life for the residents first.”
Other members of the audience spoke about the positive impact the renovation of the historic building would have on the economic development of the area.
“I wanted to speak out in support of the application,” said Avon resident Greg Gavioli. “I have attended all the meetings and heard things from all sides…and I feel like this project will benefit the town.”
The bank building on 320 Main Street was vacated over six years ago and most recently, Mr. Morgan had the idea to turn it into a new restaurant called Sylvan Hall. The building was purchased by Main Street Enterprises LLC on Dec. 30 of 2020 for the price of $1.1 million.
The application to the borough planning board lists 320 Main Street Enterprises LLC as applicant with Sepandar D. Kamvar and Angela M. Schiavoni as owners.
The registered agent for 320 Main Street Enterprises LLC is listed online as Sepandar D. Kamvar.
According to Mr. Morgan, Philip Renna purchased the 320 Main Street location in 2017 and moved the seasonal liquor license from the Norwood Inn over to that property. Mr. Morgan said that Mr. Renna sold the property and the license as a “package deal” to the owner of 320 Main Street Enterprises LLC.
The liquor license is held by 320 Main Street Hospitality LLC, of which Angela M. Schiavoni is listed as the registered agent.
The process of turning the building into a restaurant that serves alcohol had been held up in the planning board due to the need of an approval for a D1 use variance.
The need for a variance was not the only issue that the applicants ran into. Attorney Timothy Middleton represented residents Kelly Cutillo and Irene Allegro, who raised several objections before the planning board. Ms. Allegro owns Allegro Realty, which is next door to the bank, and Ms. Cutillo owns a residence behind 320 Main Street.
Mr. Middleton previously said that one issue is whether Mr. Morgan is proposing “a sit-down restaurant.”
“The zoning officer believed, because they had [described] a 10-seat bar in the restaurant and because they served alcohol, they were a tavern and not a sit-down restaurant,” Mr. Middleton said.
While the zoning would permit a restaurant, he said, “the zoning officer did not believe serving alcohol complied with the sit-down restaurant definition.”
Mr. Middleton said his clients have raised other concerns as well, including the “size and scope” of the proposed restaurant.
“I believe it has 130 seats, two floors,” he said. “It is much larger than any current restaurant in Avon. He also cited the “lack of parking, the difficulty in picking up garbage and making deliveries will make this project very difficult for the neighbors.”
Despite the issues raised by residents and Mr. Middleton’s clients, the planning board approved the variance and the site plans with the modifications that had been made throughout the planning board process. Some of these modifications included the elimination of a rooftop bar, patio and additional bars on the inside of the restaurant, leaving only one 10-seat bar in the final plan.
According to Mr. Morgan, the restaurant will offer various cuisine options that would rotate throughout the season.
“The concept would be to have a rotating seasonal cuisine that would change out with lots of fresh ingredients and unique flavors that are traditional in the area,” said Mr. Morgan.
“I have traveled a lot through Asia so I want to bring in familiar dishes with a unique spin. Everything would be handmade with lots of local produce.”
According to Mr. Morgan, the group is looking at a six-to-eight-month construction period with completion in May 2024.
While Mr. Morgan is hesitant to think too far ahead, he has come up with some food concepts he is hoping to bring to the table with the help of Marilyn Schlossbach.
“We got Marilyn Schlossbach on board and initially she is on board as a consultant but she may stay in the project to run the food operational side of the business,” said Mr. Morgan. “I have always been trying to find a permanent home that supports the mission of pricing fresh food, flavors and accessibility and building communities around that.”
Although this project is new to Avon, it is not a new concept for Mr. Morgan. He is also responsible for Asbury Fresh markets and the renovation and creation of Cowerks in both Asbury Park and Red Bank.
His newest project is now looking to bring together his love for renovations and passion for food while breaking into a new town.
“I think in all of this region and this part of the Jersey shore there has been a huge population influx,” said Mr. Morgan. “I think it is smack in the middle of the renaissance in this area and it seems to make sense geographically.”
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