First reported 3/23/2010 12:54 p.m.

The controversial expansion at Gaetano’s restaurant, which through its construction last year wound up violating zoning and building codes, now has village approval to remain standing. And with this zoning relief that 7636 Madison got Monday night came a 90-day deadline for its celebrity-chef owner to do what he can to meet Forest Park’s building codes.

“We’re now on a very fast track to make things right,” Village Administrator Tim Gillian said after Monday night’s village council meeting, where an ordinance granting Gaetano DiBenedetto a zoning variance passed. Gillian, who has been dealing with the how-did-this-happen mess since stepping into his post last fall, said he would immediately let DiBenedetto know to submit plans for a retrofit.

Critical among the changes necessary for a certificate of occupancy are a new floor that’s compliant with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, four corner posts to correct a foundation problem, and the addition of a sprinkler system to improve one wall’s fire rating.

The fixes are necessary for an addition that early last summer was approved as a seasonal beer garden but which, in the building process, morphed from an open patio into a fully enclosed structure for year-round use. What had initially been classified as a fence then became a building addition. As such, it needed to meet a zoning law that dictates a 25-foot setback in the rear of the building.

The variance granted Monday night reduced the setback in the rear yard to 12 feet, which DiBenedetto had petitioned for last fall and which the zoning board of appeals, in its December meeting, did not recommend. At the village council’s last meeting, which was held March 8, Mayor Anthony Calderone took a straw poll in which he and commissioners Mike Curry and Mark Hosty voted to ask the village attorney to draft an ordinance for the variance. At that meeting, commissioner Marty Tellalian had voted against asking for such an ordinance and commissioner Rory Hoskins had abstained from the vote. At Monday’s meeting Hoskins and Tellalian were the two votes against the ordinance.

In Section 3 of the findings of what was approved Monday night, it’s noted that the 7600 block of Madison “contains 11 addresses that do no meet the required rearyard setback, so the rearyard setback variation requested for the subject property is consistent with the surrounding area.”

Lot-line proximity becomes an issue with the variance because of the fire rating of the addition’s back wall, which is for one hour. Should another structure be built next to the Gaetano’s addition on that side, a two-hour firewall would be needed. Gillian said that adding a sprinkler system, though not necessary for the restaurant as it stands, would upgrade the addition’s fire rating to that required should there be a neighboring building.

This fix, the two others listed and yet more that Gillian says are needed for building-code compliance would, according to the village administrator, be reviewed and OK’d by an engineer before a certificate of occupancy is issued. That certificate must be issued within 90 days of the permits being pulled. Gillian says he expects those permits will be applied for this week, putting the deadline to the second week in June. If the work and the approvals for that work aren’t done by then, DiBenedetto will lose the variance and need to knock down the addition.

When Gillian assumed the administrator’s position in mid-September, he ordered an immediate halt on the construction after, he had then told the Review, he realized its scope had gone beyond what was approved. DiBenedetto has not faced any sanctions for deviating from the plans that had been approved. The restaurateur had told the Review that the roof and the vinyl siding were the only modifications and that the decision to enclose the structure had been encouraged by village inspectors.

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