Owners of Cru Uncorked in Moreland Hills are planning to expand the business after purchasing an adjacent piece of land. Representatives of the French restaurant appeared before the village Board of Zoning Appeals to discuss zoning variances that might be needed to expand the outdoor patio, create a covered wine tasting room, plant a farm-to-kitchen garden and other changes.

MORELAND HILLS — After purchasing an adjacent piece of property, owners of Cru Uncorked restaurant plan to expand their business into a world-class eatery. Co-owner Sandy Cutler and architect Dick Kawalek explained their vision on Monday for the French eatery that opened at the corner of SOM Center Road and Chagrin Boulevard four years ago.

Cru Uncorked typically hosts wine education classes and wine tastings, Mr. Cutler said, but those events have been curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant closely followed safety guidelines from Gov. Mike DeWine, which limited the seating capacity. He said that the patio has been especially popular this summer, and at times was booked two weeks in advance. But when there is no end date in sight for the coronavirus, the business needs to adapt.

“With the spacing requirements, and we participated in the establishment of those spacing requirements along with the governor’s task force, we’ve had to reduce our capacity by 27 percent. Obviously that has caused a rather substantial reduction in revenue,” Mr. Cutler said. “We’ve been unable to run our speakers program nor our wine tasting program because the spacing program just doesn’t allow us to do so. It’s not clear when pre-COVID dining conventions will return.”

In August, MacDonald Properties, LLC purchased the 2.7-acre parcel on Chagrin adjacent to Cru Uncorked for $385,000, according to Cuyahoga County records. The restaurant is zoned U-2 as a retail business district. The new parcel is zoned U-1 for houses. On Monday, the Board of Zoning Appeals reviewed the preliminary plans and discussed what variances would be necessary on the new parcel.

There are three phases of the expansion that would take place over several years, Mr. Cutler said. The first phase includes a patio expansion, a covered wine tasting room and additional storage space. He is expecting to hire six or seven more employees due to the expansion. Phase two would include a farm-to-kitchen garden, where flowers and vegetables for the restaurant would be grown. Mr. Cutler also mentioned plans for a greenhouse. In phase three, the garden kitchen would be built, which could be used for cooking classes.

Mr. Kawalek described the wine tasting room as the “jewel of the crown.” He described it as a delightful pavilion with accordion French doors. There would be an arcade that connects to the restaurant that is enclosed with arched windows, he said. About 30 parking spaces would need to be relocated to a new parking lot. By the garden kitchen, Mr. Kawalek said that there could also be a paved area for a tent to hold events like small weddings. The expansion of Cru Uncorked is set to model an elegant French estate, he said.

“Sandy [Cutler] is well on his way to creating a world class restaurant here,” Mr. Kawalek said.

Steve Byron, legal counsel for Cru Uncorked, said that in order to use the adjacent parcel for the restaurant, a variance would be necessary because the village’s zoning code states that accessory uses must be on the same lot as the principal use. He also said that Moreland Hills’ code does not expressly permit agricultural uses. The property is currently zoned for housing, and Mr. Byron said that this use is less impactful than that.

“The concern here is that you would not be able to use [the] 2-acre zoning standard, which is the village’s standard and what you’ve fought very hard to maintain,” Mr. Byron said. “This property is adjacent to a restaurant and what used to be State Route 422. It’s very prominent next to the highway there. The pressure would mount if it were to be used for residential to get more density than one unit per 2 acres.”

Todd Hunt, attorney for the board of zoning appeals, said that once a variance is granted, village officials cannot change their mind and take it back. Village Council would vote on a variance after it is recommended by the board of zoning appeals. For a use variance, Mr. Hunt said that the board can prescribe safeguards to ensure that the objectives of the code are met.

For example, there could be stringent conditions on this potential use variance to only allow for the uses that Cru Uncorked is planning. He said that if the land is still zoned residential, it could also still be used for houses. Mayor Dan Fritz said that Cru Uncorked has been a “wonderful addition” to the village.

“This plan represents something that is special for Moreland Hills. I think it’s a great use for the adjoining property that they now own,” he said. “I concur with our legal counsel and [Councilman Paul] Stanard that I believe in terms of keeping it U-1 and using a use variance postures the village in a little bit of a better light moving forward. I see it as a win for the village.”

Mr. Kawalek said that the architectural drawings for the expansion are near completion.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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