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 The Berkley City Council postponed a decision at its Jan. 6 meeting on agenda items relating to the parking situation at Vinsetta Garage. Parking has long been a concern of residents who live near the restaurant, which opened in 2012.

The Berkley City Council postponed a decision at its Jan. 6 meeting on agenda items relating to the parking situation at Vinsetta Garage. Parking has long been a concern of residents who live near the restaurant, which opened in 2012.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Berkley council postpones decision on Vinsetta Garage parking

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 14, 2020

BERKLEY — The Jan. 6 Berkley City Council meeting received much attention from residents concerning parking at the restaurant Vinsetta Garage.

There were two items on the agenda that aimed to bring a several-year parking issue to an end. The first item was an agreement for the reconfiguration of and development of off-street parking at 1010-1046 Eaton Road. The second was a request to approve a consent judgment to settle pending litigation between the city of Berkley and 27799 Woodward LLC, which refers to the street address of Vinsetta Garage.

If the consent judgement were to have been approved, it would have been submitted to the Oakland County Circuit Court for a final approval.

The Berkley City Council decided to postpone a decision on both items until a special meeting in January. The city stated in a press release that the postponement is to “amend the corresponding language of the Planning Commission role within the consent judgement and to eliminate the (parking) concept plan.”

The problems with the parking at Vinsetta Garage date back to when it opened in 2012. As detailed by City Attorney John Staran at the meeting, parking was substandard from the get-go, and nearby streets have been routinely filled with patrons going to the restaurant to eat.

There was a point where Vinsetta Garage and the owner of the T-Mobile store near Woodward and Eaton tried to develop three lots on Eaton for parking, as Vinsetta Garage had obtained two of the three. The two sides, though, were unable to come to an agreement on how the lot would be maintained.

Staran stated Vinsetta Garage would go on to acquire four lots on Oxford Road adjacent to the restaurant and aimed to have them rezoned to parking. This was denied by the city, citing their failure to develop the Eaton lot as one reason why. Vinsetta Garage later came back with a conditional zoning request, seeking to develop 3 1/2 lots on Oxford instead.

Berkley and Vinsetta Garage have been locked in litigation since that point. The most recent development in the case saw Vinsetta Garage agree to parking on two of the four lots on Oxford, and they would be required to build two new houses at 984 and 996 Oxford to draw a line between the commercial and residential districts. The city also was able to bring the Eaton agreement with T-Mobile back to the negotiating table.

“So right now, they only have 41 spots. They’re required to have 64,” Staran said. “When they build Eaton … that will give them, on Eaton, a total of 28 spaces. So they pick up another 11 or 12 spaces there than what they currently have, and then it’s anticipated they will have 26 spaces on-site when they build on the two lots on Oxford.”

If the city chooses not to approve the agreements, Staran said he felt good about the litigation in terms of winning, but he also noted that there are no guarantees.

“It’s a winnable case,” he said. “It’s also possible to lose the case. There are some pretty serious constitutional claims that are against us. There is a damage claim against us. If the city does not settle this case and the city were to go to trial and lose the case, the prospect is that you will have four lots on Oxford zoned and used for parking, no new parking constructed on Eaton, and potentially a damage award to pay, as well.”

While that is one “extreme” described by Staran, the other extreme — the one he’s more confident in — is the city winning. If the city did win, Staran said, that would mean the status quo would be upheld and the zoning for the four “dilapidating” homes on Oxford would remain residential. He also said there wouldn’t be any further parking on Eaton and they would not have solved the substandard parking.

“That’s the dilemma and difficult decision that the council’s looking at,” he said. “You are dealing with a litigation problem, and you are dealing with a substandard parking problem.”

A number of residents came forward to share their uneasiness and dislike of the items, with some saying Vinsetta Garage has not been a good-faith actor with Berkley in their previous dealings.

Dean Smith, a former planning commissioner, said the Planning Commission would not have any real input on the parking lot’s design and on a retaining wall, and that whatever the council signs off on is what the residents of that area will get.

“There is nothing in this agreement that requires Vinsetta Garage to build anything that remotely ties into the neighborhood that they’ve been part of for the last eight years,” he said. “I don’t know anything about Vinsetta Garage’s plans for the two houses, but this agreement should provide clear direction that put buildings that blend into the neighborhood.”

Andrew Assenmacher said he hopes the council follows Staran’s suggestion that this case is something that Berkley could win.

“This is a battle worth fighting for, at any cost,” he said. “I think you guys have done the right things. I think you can win in court. I think you should go to court.”

Mayor Dan Terbrack said the residents who spoke at the meeting all made valid points based on track records and history in dealing with the establishment, and that the objections were because of concerns with what’s in the consent judgement.

In addition to the concerns that the Planning Commission wouldn’t have any oversight or review of a site plan, residents also weren’t sure if approving the consent judgement meant the concept plan for a parking lot in the document would automatically be approved, as well.

The council directed Staran to go back to Vinsetta Garage’s attorney to get the clarifying language added that the Planning Commission still has full authority for due process and to eliminate the concept plan for the parking lot.

“I have the same trust issues, and that is a concern of mine,” Terbrack said.

“We’re trying to come to a resolution that took care of the problem, that protected the neighborhood, that made things that looked great, things that we would be happy about and houses that would protect at least that area,” Terbrack continued. “That’s what we talked about, and that’s how we got to this point.”

The mayor recognized that the proposal isn’t perfect for everybody, but he also felt there isn’t a perfect solution for this case.

“The perfect solution for one person might be running somebody out, and some perfect solution for somebody else might be building 17 parking lots,” he said. “There is no perfect solution that’s going to 100% make everybody in this room who has spoken so passionately happy with the outcome … but without that clarifying language, I am very hesitant, without knowing that I can say yes to all the people who came up here and talked, ‘Yes, the Planning Commission has control. Yes, we’re going to be able to do those things.’ I have serious reservations.”

The city of Berkley has scheduled a special meeting to vote on the two items for 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at City Hall, 3338 Coolidge Highway.