By Eileen Gallagher
A recent flurry of social media postings has added to uncertainty about whose restaurant will be located at the Chappaqua Train Station.
After hearing four proposals for the space, the town board voted four to one in favor of Love at 10514, the proposed eatery by Leslie Lampert, owner of Ladle of Love and Cafe of Love located in Mt. Kisco.
However, it was announced at Tuesday’s town board meeting that, rather than contest the referendum filed with the town by Peter and Erin Chase, (New Castle residents and restaurant proprietors who had also vied for the train station space), the town has rescinded its offer to Lampert and will reopen the process.
Town Supervisor Robert Greenstein issued the following statement this morning regarding the situation: “This year, when this Board decided to reopen the application process, the second RFP helped create a level playing field and get all of the applicants on the same page. All of the applicants saw the second RFP. All of the applicants had the same opportunity to respond to the second RFP. The overall result was more applicants, and better proposals, in my opinion, than at any other point during this two-year process. Nevertheless, we’re going to do it again. When the Board reviewed the referendum petition and weighed its options, the most prudent choice was to rescind its lease award and reopen the selection process once again. We invite all prior applicants for leasing the Chappaqua Train Station to resubmit their proposals for consideration.”
The board has directed the town administrator, Jill Shapiro, to publish a Request for Proposal (RFP) “in substantially the same form as the RFP the town published on March 19, 2014.” In addition, they also encourage all previous presenters to apply again.
Initially, postings from Carla Gambescia, who proposed Via Vanti! Piccolo for the site, were mainly about the issue of the bathroom policy mandated in the lease. For example, on May 29 Westfair Online quoted Gambescia, “It’s really ridiculous that we’re even talking about this. If it was simply said to me this is mandatory, it’s like ‘fine, no biggy.’”
Gambescia recently joined the efforts led by Erin and Peter Chase for a referendum which stated in part, “Presentations were conducted in March prior to an RFP being issued; the complete reverse of what is standard practice.”
Gambescia had initially been accepted by the town board led by Susan Carpenter, after she presented her proposal in February 2013. Ironically, that proposal was not in response to an RFP. The RFP issued in May of 2012 which had long expired stated that the bathrooms were to be kept open to the public.
After several months elapsed due to station repair work paid for by the town, a draft lease was sent to Gambescia in November. Regarding bathrooms, it stated, “At all times that the Building is open for business, the restrooms to be located within the Building shall be and remain open and available for free use by the public, and not limited to use by patrons of the Concession or Business and the general public shall be permitted to enter the Building for such purpose.”
Gambescia did not agree to the bathroom stipulation. She replied, “Lease currently stipulates that the restrooms be open to the public at all times; however, beyond the hours of 11a.m. on weekdays this is not a workable condition for us as it will be disruptive for our guests and an ambiance killer; in order to get to the bathroom persons would have to pass through a gauntlet of guests seated and being served in the main dining area.”
The town’s response was, “Public access to restrooms has always been a condition of this tenancy. No change.”
Shortly before the old board’s term ended, Gambescia contacted Carpenter in an ongoing attempt to get her version of the lease approved. “The deal could easily fall apart in the next week or so, especially if this is just left to the board’s weekly meeting agenda and/or if the current board prefers to defer decisions to the new board which will probably need to reassess the entire situation for a longer period of time than I am now willing to wait… If we cannot square away the details after over a year of meetings and discussions we may need to just move on.”
Then in January of this year, she wrote to Adam Brodsky of the new town board, “Chappaqua residents and diners expect and demand quality. ‘Quality’ in a restaurant involves more than simply food and service–as importantly, it’s the overall ambiance and dining experience provided to the guests. Allowing the general public to walk through a small and intimate dining space in the evening to use its bathrooms is completely incompatible with establishing a dining experience that our guests would enjoy and gladly repeat. Such a requirement on the board’s part would be a business handicap and therefore a compromise I am unwilling to make for my guests and the Via Vanti brand.”
On February 13, Gambescia appealed to Penny Paderewski, former town administrator, for help in trying to “hold [new town board’s] feet to the fire.” She claimed that the town was “reneging on the deal with me,” and extended an invitation to experience Via Vanti. That same day she wrote to Brodsky and Rob Greenstein, “There was never anything explicitly stated by the board regarding specific bathroom hours.”
She continued, “Further, if open bathrooms, including Monday-Friday dinner hours, had been of ‘paramount’ importance to the past board, why was it a point of discussion when I first received a lease draft in November?” Paderewski, however, must have known about the importance of the bathrooms, because Dan Pozin (town attorney) wrote to her on December 2, “There are many substantive comments [in the lease comments from Gambescia], some of which question crucial issues such as availability of public access to restrooms.” Paderewski in turn forwarded to Carpenter, “Want to leave [this matter] for new board?”
The town board maintains that public access to bathrooms during the building’s open hours had been, and continues to be, non negotiable.