Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Monday, April 21, 2008
  Capitalizing on MoCA or The Planning Board Knows Best
I missed this little item last week. It seems the planning board, in all its wisdom, has stifled a big chunk of the upcoming restaurant and entertainment venue, The Alley's, plans:
The Alley, owned by Jack and Keith Nogueira, did not receive a full approval as a restaurant with weekend entertainment. The board opted to allow the restaurant to "get of the ground" with an approval of a restaurant with hours until 11 p.m. It requested the owners return when plans for entertainment were more solid.

"Do you define yourselves as a restaurant with entertainment or a nightclub with food?" Kyle Hanlon, board member, asked.

Keith Nogueira said the establishment would offer "table service" lunch during the day, with a pub-feel during the evening. He said entertainment and hours past 11 p.m. were needed to appeal to crowds flowing out of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on the weekends.

"Part of the problem with the entertainment end is that we'd rather be restrained by decibals, not by music type," he said. "We're not talking rock 'n roll or making a ruckus, but we don't want to be res-trained to an acoustic setting or jazz."

Board member William Schrade Jr. said he thought "pieces" of the entertainment plan, including a liquor license, were missing and that he supported the pair returning at a later date with more finalized plans.
Where to begin?

First off, it has to be noted that Keith Nogueira left his position in the performing arts department of Mass MoCA to open this restaurant. There is no one, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, in this city that has a better chance at exploiting the crowds departing shows and events at MoCA. To close him down just as things SHOULD BE getting hopping is just about the most asinine thing I've heard in a long time.

One thing that the article does not mention is that it granted The Hub, a place that claims simply to be a restaurant, a plan to stay open until 12 midnight. The Alley, a place that openly says it wants to have entertainment and serve late night food and drink.... 11pm.

Why the difference? According to a source, one board member even asked that same question but was met by silence.

I have heard time and time again that the planning board oversteps it bounds by meddling in actual business practices. It is one thing to make sure that a new or expanding business conforms to existing codes, laws and neighborhood norms, but it is wholly of another cloth to force those who are trying to help this city by investing equity and sweat to conform to some nebulous vision of what a business and our downtown should be. As far as late night downtown dining and entertainment goes, I believe the planning board is batting .000 in the past 5 years.

For the love-of-pete... get the hell out of the way.
OK. I held my tongue for the 25 months I lived in the Tunnel City, but I gotta say something now.

You'd think the government of the City of North Adams actually likes the fact that there's nothing to do after dark. I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the people going to MASS MoCA aren't exactly riffraff, yet the City seems determined to make sure this group of people - a group of people that by definition enjoys doing varied activities and has lots of disposable income - leaves town as soon as they step out of the museum.

North Adams has a major cultural center and a college. So how come it never felt like it? It's a place of great potential.

On the Zoning Board of Appeals, we use a set of clear public zoning ordinances as standards to which we verify that property owners are compliant.

Does the Planning Board have a similar set of approved and vetted rules, or are they just making it up as they go along?
I am sure that there are a set of rules, but how clearly they define the board's powers, I am not sure. I cannot find it now, but I once came across the statute that allowed cities to create these boards and gave them a certain amount of enforcement power.

All of this considered though, I have seen nothing that makes me believe that the much of criteria that the board bases some of its decisions on is objective.

The issue of the liquor license, as presented in this article, is revealing. Considering that Massachusetts has clear (but kinda' silly) laws defining whether an establishment is a restaurant or a bar, who is the planning commission to ask - "Do you define yourselves as a restaurant with entertainment or a nightclub with food?"

This law is not particularly subjective. The Alley is a restaurant and should be treated thusly in regards to alcohol licensing. Just ask a certain legally defined and established downtown restaurant about what happened when they went before the Planning Board to try and add a few bar stools to an existing service bar. Needless to say, it never happened.
Granted another town, but isn't that the exact same question the Clarksburg selectman used to shut down the Mountain View?

Given that the MoCA types haven't been around that long, could it be that the members of the board don't have the experience to handle a different type of operation?
Mountainview's case was interesting in that it forced the question of what is a bar vs. a restaurant under Mass's liquor laws. Basically what that case proved was that if an establishment has the capability of preparing food for the general public, then it can legally be classified as a "common victualler" (restaurant).

In this case, I suspect that there are two or three factors at play:

1) exactly what the officials said in the article - that they want all the tiniest details worked out in advance rather than playing it by ear and having the proprietor figure out how to best serve his target market.

2) They are leery of having another high profile establishment fail. It is bad PR for the town every time a business goes under. Hence making sure that all the ducks are in a row is prudent for the city's image.

3) An establishment that is not committed to one type of music or another might start booking bands and attracting crowds that certain officials find unsavory. Allowing rock 'n roll bands to play might set a precedent for other places. Have you noticed that there are no local bands playing gigs in the city? They have to go to Pittsfield to find a joint to play in. That is not an accident.

These are my guesses based upon conversations with various people who have been around the block with the city before.
Do we see the Mayors Thumb all over this. He dictates and all the boards obey! It is not a secret. He wants improvement but only under His terms and His way of thinking. The Town will only prosper when he finely leaves office and a real visionary takes over. He has been the main reason the Town has been stagnant and scared away more real business opportunity. As long as Mayor Barrett is running the show don't expect a fair deal from any board. Just go to the Mayors Office first because that is where the decision is made and that is where the boot licking begins, and that is just how the Mayor wants it!
the plAnning board has no set rules or regulations...they are indeed making it up as they go....i think it's time to follow williamstown's lead and make the planning board an elected body here in the city of north adams

ALL boards within any governmental system should be ELECTED! Otherwise you end up with a board in name only, operating for and at the behest of whoever appointes them! So why have one in the first place? Skip all the pretend bull shit and just go straight to the Mayors Office!
Stop grousing about an elected Planning Board---it simply will not happen-- and that's the fact Jack!!!--- chbpod
chbpod...nice hearing from you. It would if people wanted a fair and honest town government! A dictatorship is the most efficient form but in America we prefer checks and balances and the ability for everyone to have a fair shake, ie: set standard rules and Elected Officials and Governing Bodies! Rule by appointment is a socialist form and repugnant to any true believer in the democratic form. Hell, why bother to have a board in the first place. Just use a secretary to shuffle paper work! I suppose if we pretend that we have a functional town government long enough than the fantasy does become a reality!
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