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In Split Vote, Neighborhood Council Opposes Zoning for Vesuvio Restaurant at 420 Commercial Street

[responsive_youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KnioJCyOMo]

After an hour long Monday night heated debate between the applicants and abutters, the North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) voted 5-4 (4-4 with the NEWNC President voting to break the tie) to oppose a zoning variance request at 420 Commercial Street to allow a proposed Italian restaurant named Vesuvio. The location is at the former Segway tour location, across from the 7-Eleven at the intersection of Hanover and Commercial Streets.

The owners of 420 Commercial Street (Comserv LLC), have applied to the Boston Zoning Board to change the legal occupancy from gas station to restaurant and offices including seasonal outdoor seats and take-out. The purpose of legalizing a restaurant is in preparation for anticipated eatery, Vesuvio, operated by North Ender Damien DiPaola, of Carmelina’s and Vito’s Tavern.

Presenting for the property owner, Nicole Griffith / Comserv LLC, was Attorney Daniel Toscano. Although this proceeding was only about the zoning, also in attendance was expected tenant Damien DiPaola, represented by Attorney William Ferullo. The proposed restaurant Vesuvio would still have to obtain a C.V. and liquor license after the zoning change.  Zoning variances are required since the property is located in a Multifamily Residential/Local Services Subdistrict where restaurants over 1,000 square feet are forbidden by current zoning regulations.

The proponent reviewed the history of the location which has included multiple uses over the decades, including retail, restaurant, gas station and most recently as headquarters for Boston by Segway which left the property about a year ago. A repeated point was the difficulty in obtaining a retail tenant that was not a restaurant at the location. Notably, the gas tanks were removed in 2008 as part of an environmental cleanup.  The proposed restaurant would have about 54 seats (including ~30 outside) and a dining bar. The applicant agreed not have amplified music outside or rooftop tables. The proposed restaurant hours would be an 11 p.m. closing on weekdays and 12 a.m. on weekends.

Trustee Steve Venezia from an abutting property at 414 Commercial Street presented their opposition to the proposed restaurant highlighting the following concerns (1) increased late night noise, (2) increase in garbage, rodents and odor, (3) traffic congestion / safety issues and (4) questions about the expected new tenant. Abutters said the end of Hanover Street is mostly residential rather than commercial and questioned the public need for a restaurant at the site. The applicants countered that the corner is often dark and deserted, saying that a restaurant would activate the area.

The council initially voted 4-4 tie on a motion to oppose the application. In such cases, the NEWNC President breaks the tie. Due to confusion about the wording of the President’s vote, the council voted 7-1 to take a 2nd vote on the application. A similar situation occurred during the 2nd vote and was later clarified by the President in the meeting, resulting in a 5-4 vote opposing the zoning change to include restaurant use at the location.

The above video includes both sides of the debate and the vote, including extended public comments from the packed room at the Nazzaro Community Center. This application will also be heard on Thursday, June 12th at NEWRA (7pm, Nazzaro Center) before going to the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals on June 17th where the final decision will be made at City Hall.

4 Replies to “In Split Vote, Neighborhood Council Opposes Zoning for Vesuvio Restaurant at 420 Commercial Street

  1. The residents don’t understand that a property owner has the right to rent his place and he demonstrated that Retail was not an option. They oppose on grounds that are not real in a neighborhood that is all about restaurants. If I were him, I would build a high rise Homeless Shelter…that is allowed by the zoning!

  2. I would like to address some of the decisions I made during the meeting and the conclusions and accusations that have been levied since.

    First, my decision to include the plans that I mistakenly thought included a roof deck, linked here (http://bit.ly/SzK1sx). The attorney representing the owner sent me two plans one labeled “Proposed Restaurant” and one labeled “Site Plan of Land Showing Outdoor Seating”. I included both in the presentation, and as the Outdoor Seating drawing showed 36 seats seemingly inside the structure I assumed it was on top of the roof (hence outdoor). I made a reasonable mistake, it wasn’t something we harped on in the meeting and quickly moved on once it was cleared up.

    Secondly, I decided to include the slides from the Trustee of 414 Commercial. I have been to enough meetings to know where there is a contentious issue involving a condo association, which are usually very well prepared and represented by council, rather than have 15 to 30 people all stand up and say the same thing, its better to have one person speak on their behalf. The licensing board has the same policy. Further, as many times a condo association will have slides, either passed out or projected. Now that we have a projector, I thought it would be expedient to let them use our projector and save time and paper. I asked if there was a presentation and if so if I could have it to include in our meeting powerpoint. I have also asked both Attorney Ferullo and Attorney Toscano if they wanted to avail themselves of the projector and both have declined in the past. Mr. Venezia, the trustee, spoke for 18 minutes, more than I would have liked, but many people including the prospective tenant spoke for a long time too. I didn’t cut anyone off during the meeting. We heard from everyone, for and against. Including the prospective tenant Mr. DiPaola for an extended time, business owners who don’t live in the neighborhood, and people who represented that they live in the neighborhood and don’t.

    Third, I let Ryan Kenny vote despite someone calling on him to recuse himself. As a resident of an abutting building, he didn’t violate any of our conflict of interest bylaws and further it was just preposterous in my opinion that someone should disqualify himself because he lives near a project and will be effected. As a Council, we should care more about the opinion of someone who lives in the neighborhood than outside of it, we should care about abutters more than those on the other side of the North End. Why would that logic not continue to someone who is on the board. His vote shouldn’t count more than everyone else’s, but it should count! Further, the petitioner can’t pick and choose who he wants to vote on his application nor should someone have to recuse themselves because of how they intend to vote.

    Fourth, at the time of the motions, I recognized Ryan Kenny first to make the first motion. Upon review its clear that Ralph Verrocchi also made a motion at the same time and possibly before. As President I can recognize anyone I want in any order I choose to recognize them, but you have to be recognized in order to present a motion. I picked Ryan because he was in my field of vision.

    Lastly, I fubbed up the wording on my deciding vote. I have been president for four meetings, I haven’t mastered Robert’s Rules of Order especially while being heckled. I think my intention was very clear, but I messed up. But once again, I voted to support the motion to oppose the change in zoning at 420 Commercial St.

    All of the decisions I made I believe I have the right to make as President. Because of my vote against his proposal, the prospective tenant decided to make libelous and personal attacks on Facebook. I don’t dispute that I am fat, its the first time I have been called Fattaroli since grade school! He’s now taken to calling me from blocked numbers and threatening me! His behavior in the meeting and after is unprofessional and unbecoming of a business owner in this neighborhood, and validation that I made the right vote. Despite his call for me to step down, I will not. I plan to be here for a while.

  3. Matt,

    I don’t use Facebook so I am sending this in your comment space. I disagree with you choice of headline for the Vesuvius story. NEWNC’s vote should be reported as it was voted, 4 members voted in favor of the motion to oppose the application for zoning relief and five members vote against the motion. Therefore the motion did not pass. No other motions were voted and the council went on to other business. A review of your tape of the meeting clearly bears this out. A motion is made “TO OPPOSE APPLICATION”. Four members voted in favor of the motion and four members voted against the motion. The deciding vote was by the President at 1:08 on the tape. He clearly says “I vote to oppose the motion”. I pointed out that with 5 members against the motion and 4 in favor the motion did not pass. After a motion for reconsideration, the members again voted 4 in favor and 4 against the motion to oppose the application. At 1:11:20 on the tape, the deciding vote was again cast by the President saying “I vote to deny the motion”. Once again I informed the President that the motion did not pass with 4 vote in favor and 5 votes against.

    The fact that the President, at the end of the meeting, says he intended to vote in favor of the motion when he said he that he was against the motion, does not change the vote and once the vote is cast and the organization moves on to other business that vote is final and a member cannot change his/her vote. I will not attempt to discuss the general rule that no one can vote on a question in which he has a direct or pecuniary interest nor calling the first motion made by a member rather than the second motion. If an organization says it follows its by-laws and Robert’s Rules of Order, it should follow them.

    Bill Ferullo

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