This sign for Sakura restaurant has stood next to the eatery at 680 Post Road East for more than four decades, but has to be moved since the state Department of Transportation has claimed the sign’s original location for a road improvement project. / Photos by Gretchen Webster

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — One of the oldest restaurants in Westport is losing a slice of its roadside property, and perhaps iconic trees, taken by the state to make way for a road improvement project.

Owners of Sakura, at the corner of Post Road East and Hillspoint Road for four decades, sought approval Tuesday from the Architectural Review Board to relocate its sign.

To facilitate the road work, the state Department of Transportation has condemned a section of Sakura’s frontage at 680 Post Road East. 

This temporary metal sign directs diners to Sakura restaurant, while a state road improvement takes place at the nearby Post Road East/Hillspoint Road intersection.

The ongoing construction, which includes widening Post Road East’s intersection with Hillspoint and Roseville roads, is part of a broader, nearly $12 million project to upgrade several traffic choke points along the busy corridor though Westport.

The Klinga family has owned the property since the 1940s, and Sakura has operated there since 1982. Prior to that, other restaurants have done business at the site continuously since 1927.

“This is not something the owners wanted to do … the property has been significantly damaged by the condemnation,” Frank Murphy, the lawyer representing the Klinga family, told the Architectural Review Board.

He asked the board to approve a new location for the restaurant’s familiar wooden sign, decorated with cherry blossoms. 

In addition to losing part of the property, the familiar cherry trees in front of the restaurant also may not survive the road project because construction equipment could inflict lasting damage to their roots, the board was told.

“We won’t know that until they put the sidewalks in and we see how many roots are really hurt,” property owner John Klinga told the board’s online meeting.

Two of Sakura’s three cherry trees along Post Road East were initially tagged for removal, sparking local blowback.

While work progresses, the DOT has put up a temporary metal sign, with an arrow pointing to the restaurant, and the original wooden sign is leaning against the building next to the main entrance.

The restaurant’s wooden sign will have to be moved inside the new property line, Murphy said, asking for the ARB’s approval of the new location.

In addition, the property owners also will have to get a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, because the diminished property will no longer meet requirements for setbacks and buffer zones, the lawyer said.

After Murphy, in response to a question from the board, said Sakura’s repositioned sign would not block the view for motorists turning onto Hillspoint Road, the panel voted unanimously to approve the proposal.

Another sign for PRE complex

The Architectural Review Board voted unanimously to allow this sign to be installed outside two medical practices in the commercial complex at 1365 Post Road East, where Ulta Beauty is also located.

The ARB also approved installation of a new, free-standing sign for property at 1365 Post Road East, where Ulta Beauty and medical offices are located. 

The property is one of the largest on the Post Road, Marty Rogers, owner of Marty’s Sign Design, told the board. Because of the size of the property, a new sign for the medical offices at one end of the property is needed in addition to the existing sign for Ulta at the other end. Currently, only one ground sign is permitted per lot, Rogers said.

The ARB unanimously approved the design and location of the new sign.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.