Neighborhood Board Deadlocks on Booze License for Havana Pete’s

JP developer Chris DeSisto points to a feature on a rendering of "Bartlett Square 2" at a JP Neighborhood Council committee meeting at the police station on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

Chris Helms

JP developer Chris DeSisto points to a feature on a rendering of “Bartlett Square 2” at a JP Neighborhood Council committee meeting at the police station on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

A well-known Jamaica Plain builder who hopes to open a casual seafood restaurant next to Green Street T failed to get support from a bellwether neighborhood committee for the liquor license he’ll need.

Chris DeSisto of Maple Hurst Builders will have to decide whether to take his request to the city’s Licensing Board without a green light from the Public Service Committee of the JP Neighborhood Council. The board stalemated 4-4 Tuesday during a packed community meeting at the JP Police Station.

DeSisto aims to anchor a new multi-use building at the corner of Green and Amory with a restaurant. “Bartlett Square 2” would mirror many aspects of his existing Bartlett Square building across the street. Differences include that instead of condos, the new building would have 15 apartments and office space.

A key issue for some neighbors at Tuesday’s meeting was whether DeSisto was putting the cart before the horse by seeking a liquor license before his larger plans for the entire building have gained neighborhood and city approval.

The restaurant, initially to be called “Redneck Pete’s” but now named “Havana Pete’s,” would serve seafood. Its capacity would be similar to DeSisto’s existing Cafe Bartlett Square across the street. In addition to a first-floor restaurant and patio, plans call for a mezzanine with more seating and a second bar.

“I don’t want to wait a year, in case there are no more liquor licenses,” DeSisto told a standing-room only crowd of about 30 residents and committee members. “Having a liquor license will give viability for the restaurant and help with financing.”

Rendering of Bartlett Square 2, as presented on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

Maple Hurst Builders; Photo by Chris Helms

Rendering of Bartlett Square 2, as presented on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

The basic idea of a casual seafood place next to Green Street T had strong support in the room, including from committee member Dana Gonsalves.

“I like to have an apple martini at Legal’s, so to have that in the neighborhood, that’d be great,” said Gonsalves, who left the meeting before the final vote, which ended in a tie, was taken.

The property right now is used for storage of construction machinery and vehicles.

Reasons for ‘No’ Vary

Resident Marie Turley said she and like-minded neighbors objected to the design, height, density and lack of green space for the project as a whole. She said neighbors are negotiating with DeSisto and at this time do not want to give approval for the liquor license.

“We are not opposed to Chris or his development…we’re concerned with the rapidity,” she said.

At least two committee members voted against the liquor license not because they object to DeSisto’s plans, but because of timing. DeSisto is seeking one of the new, limited licenses championed by City Councilor Ayanna Pressley as a way to help under-served neighborhoods, including JP, to get new bars and restaurants. A regular, old-style license often fetches more than $250,000, a cost that can be a significant barrier to local entrepreneurs. A total of 75 of the new licenses will be handed out over three years, with 25 made available each year.

However, because DeSisto’s larger project has barely begun making its way through the neighborhood and city approval processes, any license he was granted would likely sit unused for 18 months or more.

Strong Support From Some

At Tuesday’s meeting, residents speaking in favor of the project outnumbered those opposed six to four.

Several spoke of how a lively restaurant at that corner could increase safety.

Fred Vetterlein, who recently moved near to the proposed project, said it could be “an important addition to the neighborhood life of JP.”

“He’s done tremendous projects in Jamaica Plain,” said Bill Reyelt, an urban planner who no longer lives in JP but still owns property in the neighborhood. “I think this is textbook ‘Transit Oriented Development.'”

“Having grown up on Lamartine Street I believe the biggest problem with this area of JP has been a lack of life along the Southwest Corridor Park after dark,” wrote resident Lee Goodman in a written endorsement of the project. He echoed those thoughts in person at Tuesday’s meeting.

Next Steps

After the meeting, DeSisto said he felt some residents were conflating the liquor license process with the process for the overall building.

DeSisto is scheduled to go before the Licensing Board on Wednesday, March 11. Recommendations from the elected, volunteer Neighborhood Council (or lack of them) don’t always torpedo petitions to the city boards that hold the actual power.

Licensing Board meetings generally start at 10 a.m. in City Hall’s Room 809, on the eighth floor.

  • Hugo_JP

    Wow, so apparently some old trucks and buses parked in an unpaved lot are preferable to a small apartment building and a restaurant. As for “lack of green space” – its across the street from the Southwest Corridor Park!!

  • developmentneeded

    Who are these people on this committee? All this can possibly do is delay this project and discourage future development in the area.

    • JamaicaPlainNews

      Here’s a list. Some are JPNC members and others are community representatives. The committee is actually larger than this, but these were the people present Tuesday:

      Dana Gonsalves (left before the vote)

      Voting for the liquor license:
      Michael Reiskind
      Constance Cervone
      Dorothy Farrell
      Marge Houy

      Voting against the liquor license:
      Carolyn Royce
      Michael Iceland
      Louise Johnson
      Gert Thorn

  • Seth

    My God, the infernal gall it takes to object to “density and lack of green space” when the site is literally across the street from a T stop AND a park. WTF is wrong with these people.

  • Pat Roberts

    Fortunately, the JP Neighborhood Council isn’t taken very seriously by the ZBA or other real city organizations that do actual work. Maybe the JPNC is just trying to extort money from Chris de Sisto. After all, the developer of 161 S. Huntington just gave the JP Neighborhood Council $150,000 after they held his project up in court for a couple of years. That windfall probably has encouraged them to be more obstructive than ever, hoping for an even bigger payoff from this project.

  • FartFace

    Love the concept. East Coast Grill-style seafood and beer joint sounds great. The “Havana Pete’s” name is cringeworthy. Sounds like a cheesy airport terminal restaurant.

  • Malena

    umm,more of the usual. The liquor license Mr. DiSisto is seeking is part of an initiative by Ayanna Pressley to support small, minority businesses in underserved communities who haven’t had the big $’s and connections it takes to buy/get a liquor license. Mr. DiSisto does not fit that profile.

  • Patty

    I think it is a great idea to have this seafood restaurant here but “Havana Pete’s”? Seriously? Unless you are a Cuban restaurant or from Havana this is not a good name. Can’t the potential owner find a name more reflective of the many breweries, industries and immigrants(from the Germans to the many Hispanic groups) who helped to build this area. Where is this builder from that he thinks redneck Pete’s (the initial name) was a good fit? I suggest that learning the history of this area and finding a more fitting name might help in getting neighborhood support. Yes, I know you can name your place anything you want but a name reflecting the rich history of this area may be more welcoming to the longtime residents who have built this community. I ,still , however, support the builder’s idea and would welcome a seafood restaurant in the neighborhood.

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