Planning Board continues Brine windows, sign review | News

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NEWBURYPORT — The Planning Board inched closer toward a vote on design details for the Brine Oyster Bar storefront, but requested more information from the owners ahead of a decision expected March 16.

Brine moved from its original location next door at 25 State St. to the longtime former home of Fowle’s News at 17-21 State St. in spring 2021.

Since then, owners Nancy Batista Caswell and Jeff Caswell of Caswell Restaurant Group, represented by attorney Lisa Mead, have sought to change the windows so they are operable and to update the art deco storefront banner sign, which has long been in disrepair.

The plans do not include any changes to the iconic neon blade Fowle’s sign.

In June, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a variance, allowing the restaurant to install operable storefront windows with the condition that window design details such as materials, size and shape be reviewed and approved by the Planning Board.

Prior to receiving the variance, the Caswells sought to appeal the zoning administrator and enforcement officer’s determination that the windows would even require a variance under the Downtown Overlay District ordinance.

Since receiving the variance, the zoning ordinance has been amended to allow proposed replacements for historic windows to include new modes of operation.

On Wednesday, Mead provided the Planning Board with an update of what has changed in the proposal since the board first opened the hearing Jan. 19.

The Caswells have given the Planning Board a sample of the glass and also met with the Newburyport Preservation Trust to address concerns brought forth by the nonprofit.

To address the deterioration of the storefront banner sign, they plan to have the plastic replacement panels replaced with glass pieces that match the historic sign. All paint would be removed, but the former “Fowle’s” lettering, which is etched into the glass, would remain.

The proposal calls for “Brine” to be painted on the glass sign with the understanding that the paint could be removed in the future if needed.

A previous proposal included a stainless steel frame, but the applicants have since found an aluminum frame for the sign to match the current materials, Mead explained.

They also no longer seek to use storm windows.

Chair Bonnie Sontag shared her support for replacing the plastic panels with glass.

She expressed concern about adding Brine lettering directly on the glass, asking if the applicant would consider laying a sign over the glass rather than painting it.

Mead said the Caswells were willing to hang a Brine sign in front of the banner sign, rather than painting directly on the glass. The attorney suggested that it be made a condition subject to design and materials approval by the planning director.

Board member Robert Koup questioned the need to even have a banner sign, believing that blade signs, which hang off the building, and smaller lettering on the storefront window work for other restaurants such Carmine and The Paddle Inn.

Mead argued that the difference between Brine and these other restaurants is that its building has a preexisting banner sign and the owners want to work with the sign.

Koup repeatedly raised concerns about the energy efficiency of the proposed windows and whether other types of windows were considered.

Jeff Caswell explained that the proposed windows are two or three times thicker than the current windows.

Julia Mooradian of Seger Architects Inc. provided background on how the applicants worked with window manufacturers for months to find the best fit.

Koup continued to doubt the proposed windows, which led Mead to question whether these concerns fell under the purview of the board.

“I just need more confidence before I can vote on approval here,” Sontag said, explaining where she needed more detail.

Nancy and Jeff Caswell expressed frustration with the process, each explaining their intention to appease all concerns while trying to help their business thrive.

“We’re losing time here, and I would not suggest something that did not work for my business,” Jeff Caswell said of why the windows were selected, while also explaining his intention to preserve the history of Fowle’s in each decision.

Before voting to continue the hearing to March 16, the board requested that the applicants try to find another example of where similar types of windows were used on the exterior of another business and were able to withstand all types of New England weather.

Mead reminded the board that these are custom windows, so the request could be difficult, but said the applicants would look for examples to present to board members..

To see documents related to Brine’s proposal, go to https://www.cityofnewburyport.com/planning-board/agenda-items/17-21-state-street-1.

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