Review of the Casmar Cafe / Jasper’s Backyard Zoning Hearing

Last night’s Zoning Hearing involving the Casmar Cafe and the proposed transformation of the space into Jasper’s Backyard was one of the more frustrating meetings we have attended. They appeared before the Zoning Hearing Board to seek variances to allow for a larger sign, the use of the upstairs as a dining area and the use of the garage as a serving area/bar. To set the scene, the meeting room in Old Borough Hall was standing room only with about 60 people in attendance. The majority was there to support the current owner, who hopes to sell and retire. There was a good number of people there to speak against the project, but they were in the minority.

The new ownership groups plans to do several things to the property to create Jasper’s Backyard. They are:

  • Move the door from the corner of Harry and East 7th to the middle of the building on the Harry Street side
  • Make improvements to the backyard to create a dining area and bar that would be used seasonally.  The improvements would include landscaping and fencing, along with moving the dumpster into an enclosed area
  • Convert the upstairs apartment into a dining area
  • Overall improvements throughout the building to update it
  • Make the building ADA compliant

The meeting was eventually continued, so no outcome has been determined. Thus far the current owner, Ed Cassidy, and the architect have testified. The new owner and a local commercial realtor, Gary DeMedio, have not yet been called. There was an opportunity for the public to ask questions, but thus far they only seemed interested in bashing the current owner.

The concerns thus far expressed have been noise and parking. So let us explore those concerns (with the acknowledgement that the new owner, who is expected to address these topics and how they will be improved upon, has not yet testified). However, in the spirit of July 4th, we believe that the neighbors should find the below to be “self evident”:

  • The Casmar is a corner bar that has been known to attract a certain clientele. The new owners aren’t going to spend a million to two million dollars on the property and rehab to attract the same clientele. The menu, pricing, atmosphere will all change. 
  • As the current owner testified, the Casmar is open until 2:00 a.m. everyday. The new plan for Jasper’s Backyard is for it to be a restaurant/bar that serves a New American menu. Drive around Conshohocken on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday night and try to find a similar sounding restaurant open past 10:00 p.m. It won’t be easy.
  • Does the new owner hope to attract more people. Yes, with the expansion of the restaurant into the apartment and the seasonal use of the backyard/garage, there is the potential for more people to make their destination East 7th and Harry. The current owner has verbal agreements with CVS and the dry cleaner to use those lots once those businesses are closed. You also have to consider that many people in the immediate area, who have chosen not to frequent the Casmar, may choose to be costumers of the new restaurant. So there is the possibility of more or an equal amount of people choosing to walk.
  • What happens if it doesn’t get approved. If it doesn’t get approved, you will likely have more of the same, under a different operator or owner. Does anyone in the neighborhood want that?

There are a couple things that can be done to help alleviate the concerns of the neighbors. Regarding the use of the backyard and noise, the sidewalk cafe license, which doesn’t apply to Jasper’s Backyard because they propose serving outdoors on private property, requires that patrons purchase an entree to utilize sidewalk seats. This is done to prevent people from just sitting around and drinking all day on the sidewalk. Similarly to the new proposal, Coyote Crossing has an outdoor dining area on property private. We are not sure if it was a requirement of zoning or just a business decision, but Coyote Crossing requires guests to order an entree when sitting outside. Neighbors may want to discuss this concept with the new owners in an effort to limit noise.

In regards to parking, the neighbors might want to discuss with the new owners their formalizing the relationship with CVS and the laundry mat and utilizing valet on the weekends and for special events. Some lunch board type signs put up during the appropriate hours would also help direct people to park in these lots and not in the neighborhood.

As we mentioned above the hearing was continued to an unspecified date in August. Once we find out the specific date and time we will provide an update.

This post was updated to include the correct corner of East 7th and Harry, It was originally mentioned as East 6th and Harry.