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."
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.
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.