Though bending the rules for controversial work at Gaetano’s restaurant isn’t what the zoning board recommends, Forest Park’s village council has voted to take a step toward considering such zoning relief.
In what Mayor Anthony Calderone called “a straw poll” on a zoning variance, two of the village’s four commissioners voted Monday night to ask municipal attorney Nicholas Peppers to draft an ordinance for the variance.
“I’m not looking to be penalizing. I want to see a business move on. I want to put all this behind us,” Commissioner Mark Hosty said in the discussion about a fully enclosed expansion that morphed from what were approved plans for an open patio.
The completed project, which is at the back of Gaetano’s restaurant at 7636 Madison, shows little resemblance to drawings for the work that were submitted to the village early last summer. This expanded seating area, now a year-round instead of a seasonal option at the namesake restaurant of Chef Gaetano DiBenedetto, has not received a certificate of occupancy.
DiBenedetto, who has acknowledged the change but has said it was made with the village’s awareness, has not been fined for building beyond what was planned and approved.
Hosty was one of two votes in favor of bringing a formal look at this matter to the council’s next meeting. Commissioner Mike Curry, who oversees the building department and who has served on the zoning board of appeals, cast the second vote in favor of getting to the stage of hearing the case formally.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins cast neither a yes nor a no vote, saying he was unsure about how to proceed. For Marty Tellalian, the commissioner most vocal about questioning this project, there was no wavering.
“This places a restriction on future development,” Tellalian said, disputing an analyst’s assessment that adding sprinklers would offset the fire risk that the addition of windows to one wall now presents. Tellalian said it’s not good enough that such a fix would work only where there’s no neighboring building on that side.
“This structure can’t just support the intent of the code. It must meet the code in its entirety,” he said.
Calderone countered by saying that, in work done at 7415 Madison, the shop space for Deedee & Edee, side windows were allowed on the condition that sprinklers were installed, and that at this location, there was no setback. At Gaetano’s, there is setback, but the revised work has made for half the setback called for by local building regulations.
Revisions of the work, which resulted in what the village eventually found to be in compliance with neither its building nor zoning codes, weren’t noted as the work was in progress.
“It’s clear by what’s gone on that the village has some responsibility in this situation,” Tellalian said.
If the village votes to deny the zoning variance, the building will have to be knocked down, Village Administrator Tim Gillian told the council.
The next meeting of the village council is Monday, March 22.