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Panera Bread Stalled Before Eastchester ZBA

EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – Panera Bread will have to wait until next year to find out if the Eastchester Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will sign off on its application to move into the space left vacant by Blockbuster on Route 22.

After nearly three hours of testimony from Lowell Farcas, owner of 13 Panera Bread franchises, his attorney William Null, and residents in opposition to the proposal, the ZBA opted to table any decisions regarding the company's application until January for several zoning variances.

The board’s chairperson Peter Borducci said that after listening to both sides, he needed more time before he could make a decision.

The issue at hand is how to define Panera Bread as a food eatery.

Back in 2008, the town passed a law that prevents any kind of fast food restaurant from opening in Eastchester and specifically allows only full service restaurants. In part, the law defines a full service restaurant as one that has waiters who serve food at a table to patrons.

Residents – such as Martin Szold, an attorney who has lived in town for 32 years – maintain that Panera Bread is not a full service restaurant, and fear that allowing it to operate in Eastchester would open the door to other fast food restaurants.

Farcas explained that at his stores, patrons come in, wait on line, order and pay for food that is posted on a large board above a row of cash registers. Patrons seat themselves at a table and their food is brought to them by a server who cannot take a further orders, or payments.

"If I want a cup of coffee, can my server bring me one?" asked ZBA member Steven Baker.  Farcas said servers can refill a cup of coffee, but the patron would have to go back on line to order and pay for an initial cup of coffee.

"Unless we want Route 22 to start looking like Central Avenue, where there is fast food place, after fast food place, then grant the application," said Constantine Despotakis, a 12-year resident who considers Panera Bread to be a fast food restaurant.

Despotakis and Szold were just two of several residents who cited Panera Bread's corporate website's definition of itself and its workers.

Several residents, including Fred Moses, went to the Scarsdale Panera Bread to see the business in operation. Moses, who was on the town’s planning board for 20 years, was involved in drafting the original law that prevents fast food restaurants in town. He said he ordered his food and when he asked the server for a beverage, he was directed back to the main counter.

But Farcas' attorney, Null, of Cuddy and Feder law firm, likened Panera Bread to some of the local pizza places in town, where patrons approach a counter, pay when they order and have to get their own food and sit down.

ZBA members questioned Farcas and Null about just how much service the eatery’s servers provide. "It does not all the way fit the definition of a fast food restaurant, but it does not all the way fit the definition of a full service restaurant," Barducci said.

The ZBA meets again on Jan. 10. The proposal cannot move forward until the ZBA determines if Panera Bread meets the law.

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