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June 30, 2014

Planning Commission stalls Vinsetta Garage parking lot plan

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Vinsetta Garage, located on Woodward Avenue in Berkley, likely won’t get a new parking lot along Oxford Street after the Berkley Planning Commission recommended to City Council to deny the owner’s request for rezoning during the July 24 meeting.
Four single-family residential lots located at, from left, 996, 984, 972 and 960 Oxford Street likely won’t be rezoned for a parking lot for Vinsetta Garage after almost 20 neighbors voiced their opposition to the project during the July 24 Berkley Planning Commission meeting.
 

BERKLEY — Numerous Berkley residents packed the council chambers at Berkley City Hall during both the May and June Planning Commission meetings to oppose Vinsetta Garage owner Curt Catallo’s plans to turn four residential lots along Oxford Street into a parking lot for his restaurant.

Residents made their voices heard for almost two hours during the May meeting, and almost 20 residents living along Oxford and nearby streets spoke in opposition of the plan June 24. Ultimately, the residents got their wish as the Planning Commission recommended to City Council to deny Catallo’s rezoning request.

“I am not convinced there isn’t a better way to solve this parking issue,” Commissioner Martin Smith said. “I think there is ample opportunity with the parties involved and the additional parking to the north. This is an opportunity for the city of Berkley and the businesses to do something every city strives to do, and that is to minimize parking spaces with shared parking. This is convenient parking, and the parking they have now is well within the distance people walk in other communities to things they really want to go to.”

Catallo had purchased the single-family residential lots at 960, 972 and 984 Oxford and was looking to rezone all three lots into parking zones during the May meeting. However, just prior to the May meeting, Catallo asked for the decision to be tabled as he was working to purchase 996 Oxford, as well, and wanted to add the fourth lot into his plans for the parking lot.

“I am here today to ask for rezoning of 996 (Oxford) and the subsequent properties,” Catallo said in opening the meeting. “I appeared in front of you for the first three homes, but since that time, the owner of the fourth home approached us and we came up with a purchase price for his home. It suited our vision for coming up with what we envision as a parking solution for these four lots on Oxford.”

Vinsetta Garage, 27799 Woodward Ave., opened as a restaurant in May 2012, taking over an automobile repair shop of the same name that closed in 2010 after 91 years of serving the community. The restaurant has a valet parking lot south of the building along Woodward, but residents have brought up concerns that other customers park along the street on Oxford and on Eaton Road.

Vinsetta Garage originally had an agreement with Charter One Bank, located about a block north on Woodward, for customers to park there, but the restaurant recently entered into an agreement with NorthPointe Foot & Ankle, also about a block north of the restaurant.

Despite the parking options, Catallo said customers still parked along the streets because they were closer to the restaurant, which is why he wanted to build a parking lot nearby.

“Because these properties are part of our continuous property, it is a different walk,” Catallo said. “Charter One is set behind another business and we didn’t maintain all the sidewalks in front of all of those businesses in the winter, and it was not our obligation to light a business on that stretch. Human nature is people will wait in front of a mall for a spot to open up before they will park down the road, so we were asking people to drive past open spots on Eaton and Oxford to park at Charter One; it is just not going to happen.”

The nearly 20 residents who spoke up during the meeting said building a parking lot in their neighborhood not only would negatively affect their property values, but it would create unnecessary noise and light while being an eyesore.

“The proposed Oxford parking lot is not for a library, a law firm or a business; this is a parking lot for a bar,” Robert Robinette, an Oxford resident, said. “A bar where beer, wine and liquor are served — a bar that is open to 2 a.m. and not located in a bustling downtown area, but a residential neighborhood. A bar that is attempting to collect many more parking spots throughout the neighborhood than they need. A bar that is open today, but what about tomorrow?”

In late 2012, Catallo purchased a single-family residential lot at 1010 Eaton and had it rezoned for parking in hopes of creating a parking lot there, but so far only the house and garage have been torn down with no parking lot having been built. Since that time, Catallo has bought 1046 Eaton, which has not yet been rezoned.

According to Catallo, the problem with the planned Eaton lot is that the owners of the T-Mobile store just north of Vinsetta Garage on Woodward own 1036 Eaton and are not willing to sell the property. The two parties have been in negotiations for a share agreement, but Catallo and Vinsetta Garage are looking for a long-term parking deal near 20 years in length, while the T-Mobile owners only want a short-term agreement around four years.

Melanie Stevens, also a resident along Oxford, believes, like numerous residents who spoke and several commissioners, that the parking lot along Eaton would make more sense and be less intrusive to the neighborhood than an Oxford lot.

“Mr. Catallo stated, himself, that shared parking is not a long-term solution and he continues his tactics of manufacturing a parking problem by failure to maintain, promote and use the shared parking,” Stevens said. “He has stalled plans to develop 1010 Eaton, and it is still not used as a public parking lot. The proposed Eaton lot faces an amber apartment building; the proposed Oxford lot faces other homes. The Eaton spot is currently an eyesore and could use the beautification Mr. Catallo says he would add with his parking lot.”

While the recommendation to deny the rezoning must be approved with two readings by the City Council, the Planning Commission feels it is best for the city and the residents for Catallo to continue to pursue developing a parking lot on Eaton and working out an agreement with the T-Mobile owners.

“I think the focus of our discussion is on the trend of development of the area and objectives of our master plan, and on whether this goes with those two factors; I do have concerns about rezoning the Oxford properties,” Commissioner Mark Richardson said. “Undeniably, rezoning and developing them into a parking lot will change the character of Oxford.”

Catallo could not be reached for further comment before press time.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.