Dozens of people fill City Hall Jan. 23 to hear the council’s decision on proposed agreements aimed to end parking issues with Vinsetta Garage.

Dozens of people fill City Hall Jan. 23 to hear the council’s decision on proposed agreements aimed to end parking issues with Vinsetta Garage.

Photo by Mike Koury

Berkley council approves agreement to settle lawsuit with Vinsetta Garage

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 27, 2020


BERKLEY — The Berkley City Council has approved an agreement meant to end the town’s parking issues with the Vinsetta Garage restaurant.

At a special meeting Jan. 23, the council unanimously approved two agreements with Vinsetta Garage. The first was a collaboration agreement providing for the reconfiguration and development of off-street parking at 1010-1046 Eaton Road, and the second was a request to approve a consent judgment to settle and resolve pending litigation between the city and the restaurant.

The council previously discussed the two items at its Jan. 6 meeting but held off on making a decision after residents expressed concerns that there was no language in the consent judgement that stated the Planning Commission had any authority over the design for the parking lot, and that a concept plan for a parking lot that was in the document should be removed.

“They both have been changed,” Mayor Dan Terbrack said. “The Planning Commission does explicitly have control, and the concept plan has been removed, and it is not part of the equation.”

The issues with the parking lot at Vinsetta Garage, 27799 Woodward Ave., date back to 2012 when it first opened. After the Berkley council declined a rezoning request from the restaurant in 2016 to construct a new parking lot where four homes stand on Oxford Road, Vinsetta Garage decided to sue the city in 2017.

After several years, Berkley and Vinsetta Garage reached the terms of a settlement. The consent judgement that both sides agreed to will see the restaurant construct a parking lot on two of the four lots on Oxford and build two new homes at 984 and 996 Oxford that would draw a line between the commercial and residential districts.

Berkley and Vinsetta Garage, as well as third-party Lugo Properties, also came to a consensus on a collaborative agreement that would develop expanded parking on three lots on Eaton that the latter two parties both owned.

Co-owner of Union Joints, a restaurant group that owns Vinsetta Garage, Curt Catallo said the agreement is something they hope will work out for both sides, though he understands it’s only one step in a series of approvals that are necessary, including Berkley’s Planning Commission reviewing parking lot plans.

“We’re on the path to getting cars off of the streets, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “We’re following the city attorney’s lead and the judge’s lead.”

Terbrack said he “firmly” believed that, with this agreement, the parking issue near Vinsetta Garage could be resolved. Regarding whether the parking would change the character of the neighborhood, the mayor shared an idea from a resident on how the parking lot could be made to look like a park and have trees and other green features so that nearby residents didn’t just see a parking lot across the street.

Terbrack also recognized how some residents felt the city was “rolling over” and settling the litigation instead of fighting the case in court. He felt that, while he believed the city had a strong enough case and would win, it wouldn’t stop Vinsetta Garage from appealing or solve the parking problems in that area.

“It doesn’t stop this process from continuing to go on and on and not having a resolution,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. Does it solve our problems and should (it) protect the integrity of our neighborhood? In my opinion, yes it does.”

Resident Gabrielle Sweda believed that Berkley shouldn’t have settled the lawsuit.

Sweda said that Vinsetta Garage “repeatedly acted in bad faith in a ‘my way or the highway’ type of attitude” in the past and that this sets a bad precedent for the city to have a business “come in as a bully and try to strong-arm them.”

“There seems to be a sense from the City Council that this is a good compromise agreement to prevent the risk of losing four homes on Oxford, but I disagree,” she said. “I don’t feel that preserving those two homes is worth what we’re giving up, as far as precedent of the city being the one to decide what conforms with our long-term plans.”

Throughout the past several weeks, since the consent judgement came up for discussion, residents have expressed concerns that Vinsetta Garage wouldn’t follow through on any agreements and that the city wouldn’t step up to enforce it.

Councilman Dennis Hennen believes the agreement is in the best interest of everybody and is the best solution available. However, he stated that he heard the neighbors’ fears that the city won’t stand up for them.

Hennen shared the same concern, saying Berkley has an ongoing enforcement problem.

“We need to get tough on repeat offenders or we’re going to continue to have the situation we have tonight, where the residents don’t believe us that we’re looking out for them and (are) going to protect them,” he said. “We need to move forward with the settlement, but we also need to start demonstrating today, before we have to do anything on this one, that we’re tough on enforcement to everyone.”

On the accusations from residents, Catallo felt that representation “has always been very disappointing.”

“I think that Vinsetta Garage has made a commitment to addressing this parking concern in a way that few restaurants would have,” he said. “Just the fact that we’re willing to spend $100,000 a year on parking in Berkley is indicative of our commitment to try to have our guests park where the city and the residents would like to see them parked.”

As for breaking past promises, Catallo said that is part of the storyline he didn’t understand, though he did note this agreement is something that will be upheld by the court.

Sweda told the Woodward Talk that she was disappointed with the council’s decision and that she would have rather seen the city fight the lawsuit for the sake of future potential businesses that are looking to expand in Berkley.

“It’s important to balance the needs of residents and business, and we have never opposed parking on Eaton, despite we’d be looking at it from our porch,” she said. “We just want Vinsetta Garage to be a good neighbor, step up and follow through on their commitments and participate. I feel like they have been demonstrating themselves to be terrible neighbors for eight years, not caring about the neighborhood, letting those houses that are abandoned just become further, further dilapidated, and it would just be nice to have a good neighbor. I thought I was getting my own ‘Cheers,’ and I was wrong.”

City officials confirmed the consent judgement will go back to the Oakland County Circuit Court within the next couple of weeks.