BERKLEY — Business has been booming at the Vinsetta Garage ever since it reopened as a restaurant in May, and now its owners are working with the city to create more parking spaces and establish a larger outdoor waiting area.
The Berkley City Council considered a pair of proposals from the Vinsetta Garage at its Oct. 1 meeting. The first would rezone a nearby property from a residential district to a parking district, allowing the business to demolish a vacant house and turn it into a parking lot. The council unanimously approved the first reading of this ordinance, but it will return before them Oct. 15 for a second reading that will serve as its final approval.
The second proposal allows for the continuation of a customer waiting area with beverage service on the east side of the building, which is located at 27799 Woodward Ave. The council voted unanimously in favor of this proposal.
By rezoning the property at 1010 Eaton Road and converting it to a parking lot, the Vinsetta Garage is hoping to address its lack of parking space, which has been an ongoing problem along the crowded Woodward business district. However, it is unclear at this time how many new parking spots the new lot would provide.
The house on Eaton is bordered by two businesses, an apartment building and a residential home. The Vinsetta Garage’s rezoning proposal was recommended unanimously by the Berkley Planning Commission, and members of the City Council also voiced their support for the request.
“In terms of the actual landscape of the neighborhood, this will have fairly little impact,” said Councilwoman Lisa Platt Auensen. “We’ve looked at other (parking) lots that intrude much further into neighborhoods, and I would say that this one does not. For me, this (proposal) is very consistent with … where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to do, so I think it’s a step in the right direction. This feels like the right place, to me, to make this kind of a move.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Dan Terbrack agreed. “This is a little bit different rezoning (request) than some of the ones we’ve had in the past that have encroached a little more than our residents want. This actually fits with our master plan, and it fits the area much better. … Even though all of us up here seem to be in agreement tonight, that doesn’t mean that we don’t take into consideration how this is going to affect the residents and how it’s going to affect the neighborhood.”
But for Berkley resident John Courtney, adding a parking lot on Eaton would not only be allowing the Vinsetta Garage to move farther into the neighborhood, but also endangering the lives of nearby residents with the additional traffic that it would create.
“Those are residential streets, residential homes, and they’re being utilized by the business when they shouldn’t be,” he said. “I can certainly understand that the Vinsetta Garage … has put in a lot of money and jumped through a lot of hoops in order to bring their business into Berkley, and I can understand the city needing the tax revenue. But the parking (situation) is unacceptable, and the current proposal is unacceptable.”
Courtney was also opposed to the Vinsetta Garage’s other proposal, which would allow the business to continue its outdoor waiting area as long as it adds a second entrance/ exit in order to comply with the city’s fire code. He was primarily worried about the provision allowing the business to serve alcoholic beverages to customers while they wait for a table. His concern was exacerbated after Curt Catallo, co-owner of the Vinsetta Garage, pointed out that customers are sometimes outside waiting for as long as 90 minutes.
“If those people are going to be out there for two hours, how much alcohol are they going to be consuming?” Courtney asked. “Then they’re going to be inside for another couple hours, eating and drinking, and then getting behind the wheel. … I understand that everybody likes a drink with their meal, but there are people out there who can’t handle it. And it’s those people who get behind the wheel and who ultimately take the innocent lives out there.”
However, as Terbrack pointed out, many other businesses serve alcohol to their customers without placing any limits on how much time they can spend there drinking.
“We certainly don’t want to see anybody get behind the wheel of a vehicle after they’ve had too much to drink,” he said, “but in this case, I’m not sure how it’s different from any other establishment we already have that serves alcohol. I think it’s incumbent upon … everybody who frequents these establishments to be responsible if they’re going to consume any kind of alcohol.”
Catallo stressed that the Vinsetta Garage takes the responsibility of serving alcohol very seriously and takes great care not to endanger anyone’s life.
“This (proposal) is a continuation of keeping people who are waiting for a table comfortable and happy, and it’s not something that increases our business,” he said. “You’d never see a situation where we are empty on the inside but full on the outside. And it’s not something where you hear voices in the adjacent apartments or something that interferes with the adjacent businesses.”
City Planner Amy Vansen noted that some members of the Planning Commission were alarmed when Catallo told them that he also hoped to add outdoor heaters to this waiting area in the future.
“If we start adding heaters and since the area is relatively sheltered, then all of a sudden we’ve got an additional dining room, and they were concerned about that maybe causing an additional burden on the neighborhood,” she explained. “But I don’t see why a restaurant should be somehow prosecuted because (its customers) had chicken wings along with beer while they were waiting for their table.”
Ultimately, Catallo believes that these changes are just the next steps in reinventing a historic business. Before closing down in November 2010 and subsequently being transformed into a restaurant, the Vinsetta Garage had spent the previous 91 years as an auto shop serving classic car owners.
“This is a very old building that still has the ability to look forward,” Catallo said. “Vinsetta Garage is an excellent case study for re-adaptation and re-usage. … It says that you can save an old building by looking ahead.”