A proposal by the owners of the Mountain Brauhaus — siblings Mark Ruoff and Ilka Casey, Mark’s wife Vanessa O’Keefe Ruoff and Ilka’s husband Kevin Casey, doing business as Sugar Bowl, LLC — to expand the busy restaurant’s parking lot to the northeast corner of the intersection of Routes 44/55 and 299 was first brought to the attention of the Gardiner Planning Board last summer. Review of the plan has now progressed to the point where a public hearing will be held, at the Planning Board’s March meeting.
Given the popularity of the Brauhaus and the Ruoff family’s long history in providing excellent food and drink in a convivial atmosphere to locals and tourists alike, it seems unlikely that the proposal will provoke much controversy. But there are some aspects to the expansion that make it unusual, including the concept of a parking lot with two segments divided by a heavily trafficked road. That means that guidance from the county and state Department of Transportation and the town Department of Public Works with regard to traffic flow patterns and the placement of driveway curb cuts for ingress and egress will be taken very seriously. And as project engineer Andy Willingham acknowledged at the February 18 Planning Board meeting, Gardiner’s hamlet design guidelines “strongly discourage corner lots…If unavoidable, you have to include a lot of screening.”
However, the restaurant’s location at the very end of Route 299 is not part of any hamlet. In fact, it’s sometimes dubbed the “Gateway to the Gunks,” the point at which hikers and climbers leave civilization behind for a day of rugged outdoor recreation. Still, the owners seem keenly aware of the burden of stewardship that falls on them, having purchased the parcel from the Open Space Institute (OSI), which had acquired the property to protect the iconic spot from unsightly development. “There are going to be more trees when we’re done than there are now,” noted Mark Ruoff. “It’ll be nicely landscaped. There’s even going to be a rain garden” to handle runoff, said Ilka Casey.
Once graded, the new lot will have a pervious gravel surface, with asphalt pavement only at the entrance/exit from Route 299 (there is no outlet planned onto 44/55). The lighting plan adds seven 13-foot wooden posts, with downward-facing, “totally shielded” LED lamps to comply with Dark Skies guidelines. The new parking spaces, numbering between 62 and 64, will be laid out in a triangle. The center island will feature a kiosk with visitor information signage to be provided by OSI, intended to help new arrivals orient themselves to the trail system and natural wonders of the Gunks.
While no overt opposition to the concept was voiced, a couple of Planning Board members questioned why the expansion was necessary, evoking mild amusement from others who patronize the Brauhaus more frequently and have experienced the press of bodies to get served at the bar on a hot hiking day. “The real-world explanation is that they’re really busy,” said Willingham. “There’s clearly a demand for it,” argued Mark Ruoff, noting that the 63 existing parking spaces on the south side of 299 are far from adequate during the restaurant’s peak times. Seating capacity for the Brauhaus is 140 indoors, plus 30 outdoors when weather permits. At maximum, 25 employees can be working in the restaurant at one time, with overlapping schedules.
In fact, said Ilka Casey, the undeveloped lot across the street is now being used as de facto overflow parking during busy times: “People are already parking over there. We want them to be safe.” Still in flux is the layout for sidewalks and guiderails, with some Planning Board members expressing concern about eliminating possible “funnelization” at the proposed road crossing point for pedestrians.
The applicants’ full Environmental Assessment Form will also be discussed at the next Planning Board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17 at Town Hall. Gardiner residents are welcome to weigh in during the public hearing segment of the meeting.