Blue on Highland plans to expand into the former Venus Nail salon space/ Credit: Needham Observer

The operator of Blue on Highland is seeking to expand the restaurant’s operations by taking over the vacant space next door to add 40 more seats and a small function room.

Scott Drago of Highland Restaurant LLC described the plans at the June 4 Planning Board meeting. He requested to amend a special permit under which the 137-seat restaurant has been operating since it opened at 882-886 Highland Ave. in 2005 under different ownership.

The restaurant hopes to take over the 650-square-foot vacant space at 890 Highland Ave. last occupied by Venus Nail. Drago told the board he anticipated the additional space would be utilized on the restaurant’s busiest nights — Fridays, Saturdays and holidays — and expressed interest in having it ready for use by the fall. He also said the additional space would allow Blue to “offer something that’s not readily available in Needham, a small function room in a private area.”

The special permit granted in 2005 waived strict adherence to the town’s parking requirements to provide 56 spaces. The 40-seat expansion would technically require 13 additional parking spaces.

The several town departments asked to review the plans, including police and public health, signaled no opposition. The Planning Board also reacted favorably to the substance of the request, but informed Drago and his attorney that the town’s Design Review Board (DRB) needed to be involved in the process.

The DRB needs to review permit applications for “all exterior additions, exterior alterations, and exterior changes in all areas” according to the town’s general bylaws. The DRB also would need to approve any new signage.

“I think it’s important that the Design Review Board sign off on the change you’re making here,” Lee Newman, the town’s planning director, told the applicants about halfway through the 25-minute public hearing.

“I would suggest that maybe we hold the hearing open,” Newman said, and the Planning Board unanimously voted to do so.

The DRB’s next meeting is June 10, and Newman suggested the applicants attempt to get onto that agenda. Thomas Miller, the attorney for the restaurant, said Wednesday they were unable to get on the agenda for June 10 and hope to be heard at the DRB’s June 24 meeting.

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