Photo: Dante de Magistris before the Planning Board.
Everything appeared to be going swimmingly for the local team seeking to open a new restaurant in the former Macy’s building in Belmont Center.
The site review application before the Planning Board which met on Monday, June 10 at the Beech Street Center couldn’t have come with a better pedigree. The de Magistris brothers (“We all grow up in Belmont,” said one brother at the introductions) who run the prestigious award-winning il Casale restaurant at 50 Leonard St. are seeking to open a second Belmont location, a new dining experience for residents to experience.
Likely dubbed Roast 75 (as in 75 Leonard St. the street address), the new site would be a “new warm, inviting neighborhood restaurant,” according to Dante de Magistris, the chef, and co-owner of il Casale, speaking for the family. The eatery would incorporate an inexpensive, farm-to-table concept “that you can go to every day,” he said.
The “front” door would be the back entrance facing the two parking lots along Claflin Street. ‘It’s a nice beautiful spot there,” said de Magistris.
Architect Neli Ialamov of South End-based McMahon Architects said little would be done to the brick exterior. The interior would consist of a lower basement storage area and a main floor dining area with an open “show” kitchen so diners can see the cooks in action.
But for the Planning Board, it wasn’t what the customers would be ordering that interested them; rather where those patrons would park their cars that held their interest.
Len Simons, an attorney for landlord Locatelli Properties assisting the de Magistris family with its application, told the board it would be seeking relief from the town’s zoning bylaw requirement of supplying one parking space for every two seats in the restaurant. With the new site set to hold 133 seats, the de Magistris family will need to provide 67 spaces.
That would be an issue as the landlord’s parking lot located adjacent to the operation only has 61 spaces total which needs to supply existing retail and restaurants.
In the family and Simons’ view, the restaurant could get by with 54 dedicated spaces in which several spots would be daytime permitted commuter parking in the nearby lot behind the Leonard Street fire station and the municipal location.
With a total of 382 parking spaces in lots and on the street in Belmont Center,”[t]he thought is that there should be enough parking to satisfy the requirements of the zoning bylaw albeit not on the same lot as the restaurant,” said Simons.
Simons also said 70 percent of the expected 25 employees would take mass transit to work and since a growing number of diners are arriving via ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber, the actual number of spots the restaurant would need will be reduced even further.
But as Board Chair Elizabeth Allison noted, “the numbers [of space] are not the problem.” While not disputing the data presented to the board, Allison wanted to see “firmer” facts on the number of restaurant seats and parking spaces in lots and on the street in the Center in chart form rather than just off the top-of-the-head figures. She also said the board would be reviewing past actions on relaxing the parking bylaw for restaurants to be “consistent” if it would grant relief.
And while the board wishes to be “business friendly,” Allison said it also wanted to “be friendly to all business” in the center, not crowding out one set of retailers for another.
But it was when they realized that the board was not going to vote on the application Monday – scheduling a return visit of the application on Aug. 1 – that the faces of the de Magistris brothers took a distinctly anxious turn. And little wonder as it was revealed the board’s three-week delay on a possible vote was putting the il Casale team “between a rock and a hard place,” according to Simons.
Apparently, the de Magistris’ are “on the cusp of obtaining a liquor license” from the Board of Selectmen, said Simons, which, in turn, will allow them to finalize a financing package needed to begin construction on a space they are paying rent.
“At the risk of seeming aggressive,” Simons asked if approval of the site review application could be granted at present with conditions attached. But Allison nixed the suggestion, and Aug 1 would be the next time the team can plead its case to the board.
After spending 10 minutes discussing strategy with Simons in the Beech Street Center’s parking lot, Dante de Magistris summed up the board’s decision with a shrug of the shoulders.
“It’s an ongoing process. It’s a beautiful process,” he said without a bit of cynicism in his voice.