A national chain restaurant that offers “a casually sophisticated adult ambiance” will be coming to the Bridgewater Commons.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to have a resolution drafted to approve plans to build a 9,861-square-foot Seasons 52 restaurant at the mall in the corner of the parking lot across from the main entrance of Bloomingdale’s near the traffic signal at Commons Way.
The only sticking point in the application is concern that the restaurant’s valet parking could create parking problems that would spill out of the parking lot onto the ring road and possibly Commons Way.
The board agreed that a review process, yet to be formulated, be created to review if parking and traffic problems arise and possible solutions. That process will be outlined in the resolution that will be drafted by board attorney Thomas Collins.
Seasons 52, owned by Darden, has 22 locations in 13 states. Seasons 52 has plans to open at Marketfair in Princeton and the Menlo Park Mall in Edison. Darden also owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, among others.
The restaurant will have 294 seats, with 28 seats on an outdoor patio. The restaurant will also have 58 spaces reserved for valet parking, said engineer Mitchell Ardman. Even after losing 80 parking spaces because of the construction of the restaurant, the mall will have 4,317 parking spaces, about 400 more than required by the township, Ardman said.
But Ken Mackiwicz, the township’s consulting traffic engineer, said the loss of parking spaces may cause problems during the mall’s busiest time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“That area will be fully saturated,” he said.
Those concerns were echoed by board member Howard Norgalis, who wanted to know who would monitor the valet spots on mornings in the holiday season before the restaurant opens.
“I know Jersey drivers,” he said. “Jersey drivers who see an empty spot will want to park there.”
Sam Papia, the president of One Way Valet, the Orlando-based firm that will operate the valet parking, said that cones will be placed in the spaces and that attendants will be on duty to “educate” drivers.
Papia discounted concerns that the valet parking would cause traffic backups. He said attendants are trained to complete the process when a driver pulls up in front of restaurant in one minute. The attendants are even trained, he said, in the order they open doors for the passengers in the car, starting with women in order of age, from oldest to youngest.
Papia said his firm is also in constant contact with the restaurant so that more attendants can be put on duty if reservations indicate the restaurant is having a busy night.
Board member Ron Charles also expressed concerns about the additional traffic generated by the restaurant.
“This area backs up all the time, not just at Christmas,” he said, adding that it is “the most dangerous section of the ring road.” He said the three-way stop signs are “confusing” and that the area has recorded the most accidents at the Commons.
Kevin Coakley, attorney for the mall, reminded board members that approval had already been given for a 40,000-square-foot building in 2003 as part of the township’s redevelopment agreement with the mall. He also said that Bloomingdale’s was happy with the proposed parking plan.
Architect Gregory Simpson explained the design of the restaurant draws inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house in rural Pennsylvania. He also said that the restaurant will have an “iconic” tower or parapet that is the restaurant’s symbol.
Sean Smith, a branding consultant for Seasons 52, said signs will be placed on the parapet.
Started in 2003, Seasons 52 (http://www.seasons52.com/ ) changes its menu four times a year to offer seasonal and fresh dishes. According to the chain’s website, no dish on the menu has more than 475 calories. The restaurants also feature a wine bar and a nightly piano bar.