WESTFIELD, NJ — Jamie Chavez has something to celebrate. The owner of a popular restaurant in the downtown has gotten governmental approval to convert the basement of his establishment into a party room.

Last week, the Planning Board granted an exception to a local requirement for parking space when it decided the restaurant Xocolatz at 235 Elm St. be allowed to convert a 441-square-foot portion of its basement into a private party room.

“It does not increase the parking need to a very significant nature,” said Planning Board Chairman Robert Newell. “I feel very comfortable approving this application.”

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Chavez said customers have been requesting the use of a private room something he was previously unable to provide.

 “People say, ‘We love you. We love your place. We love your food. We want to do a private party with you’ and I, basically, have to say to people all the time ‘we can’t accommodate you,’” Chavez told the board.

Once the conversion of the basement is complete, Chavez will be able to host customers wishing to rent out his restaurant’s basement. The plans call for 11 parking spaces where the local rules for would require 53 parking spaces.

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Paul Ricci, a civic planner hired by Chavez, told the board the addition would not adversely impact the need for parking in the area. “Here we’re providing some parking, which many restaurants in the downtown do not provide,” Ricci said. “That is more conforming to your zone plan.”

Xocolatz has been in Westfield since 2002. It offers “home style comfort food,” the restaurant states on its website. “Our menu changes seasonally as we create our dishes taking advantage of the wealth of local ingredients of the region and season,” the website states.

A brunch menu offers “double pie French toast” and “Oaxaca Breakfast Burrito,” among other dishes. The restaurant is also open for lunch and dinner. With the addition of the party room, Chavez hopes to bring in more business. He said there has been a decline in customers frequenting the downtown.

“The foot traffic is not there like it used to be,” he said. “I don’t know why. I’ve spoken to other restaurants in town, and we’re not seeing the same foot traffic that we saw before.”

As part of its planning process, town officials have discussed ways to increase foot traffic in the downtown, including by drawing commercial employers into the business district, something that will increase in the downtown during the daytime.

Mayor Shelley Brindle thanked Chavez, noting that he could have decided to leave Westfield.

“I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for being here tonight and for sticking with it,” Brindle told him. “Hopefully, there will be much brighter days ahead.”

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh

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