The Batavia City Council is asking the owner of a popular downtown restaurant to go back to the drawing board after deciding not to support his plan to place a tent for outdoor dining in a parking lot next to his building.
Council, at its Conference Meeting tonight at the City Hall Council Board Room, determined that the obstacles identified by City management to the proposal by Vic Marchese of Main Street Pizza Company were valid reasons to reject his “COVID-19 2020 Temporary Outdoor Dining on City Property Program” application.
However, Council members and management said they are willing to work with Marchese on an alternative, possibly exploring the placement of tables behind his building or on the sidewalk in front of his building at 206 Main St.
“I understand that the restaurant business is an extremely competitive business and Vic does not have a lot of area to expand on,” Council Member John Canale said. “He’s at a major disadvantage … outdoor dining is almost imperative. We need to find an option for Vic Marchese to be able to compete with other restaurants who are basically eating his lunch right now.”
Marchese’s proposal was to put up a 15-foot by 75-foot tent, with lighting, in the parking lot on the east side of the restaurant – utilizing seven to eight parking spaces. He then would set up eight to 10 tables, accommodating up to 60 guests, under the tent.
Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski, referring to her July 7 memo to City Council, read the reasons she and departmental leaders felt the plan would not be feasible.
She cited state building code’s prohibiting tents in a parking space, the fact that the City does not own the entire lot, the removal of prime parking spaces (including handicap spaces) and traffic issues in an already congested parking lot between Main Street Pizza and the building owned by City Church.
The Rev. Martin Macdonald, pastor of City Church, expressed his view of the situation during the public comments portion of the meeting.
“I love Main Street Pizza and I love Vic, but I’m concerned with having an outdoor tent (that would) make traffic more hazardous,” he said. “Batavia Bootery would not have enough parking spaces for their business and I’m very concerned about the square footage being taken away.”
Macdonald also mentioned that it’s already dangerous since cars parked in front of Main Street Pizza block the view of traffic coming from the west.
Canale said he understood the legalities involved, but said “as a council person, I need to protect businesses as well.”
Council Member Paul Viele was the only one to speak in favor of Marchese’s idea.
“Just put the tables up there, let the guy do it and get over it,” Viele said.
Following the meeting, Viele expounded on his thoughts.
“It’s a temporary thing here. Let the guy make some money like every other restaurant’s doing downtown and when the COVID is over, then you’re all set,” he said, adding that motorists would adjust to the tent being there.
“People would have adapted. It’s only a three-month or four-month (situation), however long it takes, and let people enjoy Main Street Pizza,” he said. “I understand Marty’s concern and I understand the Bootery’s concern, but if you look at it, Vic’s going to be taking parking spots from his own place because it’s on the side of his building. And people would adjust to it. It’s a no-brainer, in my opinion.”
Viele called it “unfortunate” that nobody else saw “Vic’s vision” but was pleased that Council is willing to work with Marchese on possible alternatives.
Marchese did not speak during the meeting, but communicated his plight with reporters as he was walking out.
“People aren’t coming in. People don’t like to eat indoors right now; they advise against it. What are you going to do? It’s all over television. Eat outdoors,” Marchese said. “I’ll give you an example. Three Saturdays ago, I left there (his business) at 8 o’clock at night and had one table. I went by Roman’s and I went by Batavia’s Original – packed in the patio, packed.”
Marchese said he’s taken “a big hit” – losing a considerable amount of the business that had elevated him to a lofty place in the pizzeria industry.
“I was named the one of the top independent pizzerias in the United States last year – number 68 in the country,” he said. “I do a big volume and every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, there’s 20, 30 people at the door, and it’s not there right now. Which is understandable. My wife doesn’t want to go out and eat in a restaurant. I need outdoor dining.”
He said he wasn’t in favor of putting tables behind the building (where the exhaust fan is located), but might be open to placing tables on the sidewalk in front.
“But the thing is they want you to keep the tables as close to the building as possible,” he said. “If I can put a table close to the building and right towards the curb, that could work. I could possibly fit eight tables, 10 tables out there, but they don’t want them close to the curb.”
During the early stages of the discussion about outdoor dining, there was some confusion over the “parklets” concept that was featured in a story on The Batavian following a recent Batavia Development Corporation meeting.
Council Member Robert Bialkowski said he was taken by surprise by the City’s approval of having parklets (enclosed outdoor dining areas) in the parking spaces along Main Street. It was then explained by Tabelski and BDC Executive Director Andrew Maguire that the parklets story was a separate issue – something discussed as a possibility in the future.
Bialkowski also questioned the process of developing the temporary outdoor dining permit and balked at the $250 fee attached to it.
Tabelski said she received feedback from Business Improvement District members who believed it would be unfair not to collect a fee and also cited costs involved with the program, including attorney’s fees for drafting the legal documentation.
Council President Eugene Jankowski encouraged Marchese to get together with Tabelski and City staff to explore options.
“It’s not our place to redesign the plan here … but we can’t approve the plan as it is now,” he said.
City Attorney George Van Nest mentioned that the State Liquor Authority carries a lot of weight when it comes to arrangements such as this one and puts an emphasis on safety, even to the point of requiring material barricades to prevent traffic accidents.
Council Member Rose Mary Christian disapproved as well, mentioning that the tent would take away some of the handicapped parking spots.
The debate ended with Jankowski stating he would call a special meeting to approve an acceptable plan, telling Marchese that “we’re not going to give up on you, Vic.”
Meanwhile, Council – during the Business Meeting afterward -- did approve an application by Eli Fish Brewing Company at 109 Main St. for a temporary outdoor dining license agreement.
Eli Fish’s application indicated that 12 tables, serving up to 52 guests, will be placed in Jackson Square, with hours of operation set at 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
In another development, City Council spoke favorably of the Deer Management Plan Committee's recommendations to cull the deer population in the City, forwarding the draft to its Aug. 10 meeting for an official vote. Watch for more details on Tuesday on The Batavian.