To the Editor,
As mentioned on our website, we are sorry to be telling this story. Our intention had been to seek our zoning approvals without external interference and to avoid a public scene. We have reached out to both appellants privately over the years, as have several others on our behalf in attempts to resolve these matters out of the public eye. However, we do need to clarify several points in Mr. Kukura’s recent Letter to the Editor.
We also respectfully request that no one avoid The Abbey over this situation. We are reading a lot of comments to that effect and want to be clear that is not our intent. We wish all Lawrenceville businesses and the employees they support success. We hope this is our final public comment on the matter.
We would like to assure Mr. Kukura we have not lost focus and are more excited than ever to open our doors next to his. He can also put to rest his concern over our time-management, as the months-long gaps between actions in the appeals cases provided ample time to print a banner. The banner’s purpose was to provide transparency to our neighbors as many dozens have sent inquiries and expressed support.
Mr. Kukura’s Letter states he has “never been opposed to the Lawrence Food Hall” and that he “attended a zoning hearing on July 19, 2018 in support of their concept.” This is false per official records.
Mr. Kukura did attend the hearing in July 2018 in which we were seeking relief due to the inexistence of the physical space required for parking. It was the first we had heard from him and we have the official transcript of the hearing, referenced below.
Mr. Kukura did say “I support the spirit of this” and “I hate being the bad guy” in his testimony, however his attendance at the hearing and his testimony were on record in formal opposition. This is reflected in the zoning board’s formal ruling. He also testified “I have some vacant land that I looked at developing. I guess, if they get this variance, I want the same treatment.”
It is completely understandable to want the same treatment, and one may reasonably think this would align his interest with ours. However, after the zoning board ruled in our favor he filed an appeal on October 12, 2018.
We also note that we did not oppose, nor even attend, Mr. Kukura’s own zoning hearing in August 2019 (three months after the appeals court upheld his appeal and overturned our approval in May 2019), in which he was seeking approval to remove five onsite parking spaces to expand his structure. While this surprised us following his testimony in our hearing in which he described parking as “challenging” for his business, we felt it was a decision for the Zoning Board. We did not involve ourselves. At the time, we were in fact “redirecting efforts to those that offer benefit” as he recommends in his Letter, to secure offsite parking and reduce the scope of our plans.
What “Brett can tell you” about the meeting referenced in his Letter is that it occurred February 21, 2019, not fall 2018, and came about at the request of the judge who was hoping we would negotiate a resolution. [Brett Minarik is co-owner of Lawrence Hall]. We were thrilled as Brett’s previous requests to speak directly had gone unanswered. Brett’s contemporaneous notes from that evening do not reflect anyone suggesting a full excavation, regardless, both potential solutions mentioned in his Letter are non-starters:
- Full excavation: There are rules about parking space sizes, angles and the distance between rows to allow for navigation. While the footprint of our 60’ x 100’ building is indeed 6,000 square feet, we could fit between 10 and 17 spaces in the entire sub-floor, depending on layout. However, this space can only be used for one purpose – i.e. if it is parking it is not simultaneously available for back of house, walk-in cooler, office space, etc., as his Letter suggests.
We have significant need for back of house space and have plans for the existing cellar. To excavate the remaining 4,000+ square feet would not merely be the cost to remove “some dirt.” The building is one large rectangle, built in the 1890’s and reliant on four very old brick walls and foundation. Meaning were we to excavate the entire footprint we would need to invest prohibitive, unavailable sums to underpin the foundation and install supporting columns across the cellar (obstacles to vehicle navigation) to ensure structural integrity.
- Demolishing one fifth of our vintage building: As Brett explained during the meeting this would, quite simply and quite literally, ruin the concept from design to execution.
Besides the same problem mentioned above – a very old building being extremely expensive to modify even if it could be made structurally sound – it would remove vital square footage from both our back of house & front of house operations. However, most importantly this would also compromise the complex, beautiful wooden truss system supporting the roof and bracing the walls. This beam and truss system is the defining architectural feature of the space that we are working to preserve and highlight. Protecting historic features like this is exactly the point of adaptive reuse of older buildings.
These suggestions neither negate our need for zoning relief nor improve the concept. During the meeting, Mr. Kukura and his partner repeatedly asked us to “be more creative” and offered to help us find a creative solution (e.g. consulting on the demolition). Brett then offered a tangible solution: We would pay to construct a vertical parking system on their corner lot for us to share, which would triple or quadruple the available surface parking. They declined on the spot.
Again, we sincerely apologize for the need to air this laundry. However, the truth is important. We remain dedicated to improving our little bit of Lawrenceville for the benefit of all.