The city's zoning board decided Tuesday to oppose a request by the owners of 12 Grove St. that would have allowed Villa Mexico Cafe to relocate there from Grampy's gas station on Cambridge Street. The ruling ends the restaurant's effort to open on Grove Street.
"Zoning forbids this use. It’s not a personal thing," Robert Shortsleeve, the chairman of the city board, said. The space lies in a zone in which properties revert to residential use if they have not been housing a business for more than two years. This address has not been in commercial use for at least 15 years. The owner of Villa Mexico Cafe, Stoneham resident Julie King, was asking for a variance to this statute.
But opponents to the application said that a restaurant at 12 Grove St. would adversely affect the neighborhood because it would create traffic problems, trash and would set a precedent for other businesses to move into residential portions of the Hill.
Richard Lynds, the lawyer representing Villa Mexico Cafe, disagreed with this depiction. “That impact would be no greater and no more detrimental to the neighborhood" than the restaurant's current location, 80 feet away in Grampy's gas station.
Villa Mexico produces one bag of trash a day and would not create parking problems as it's a takeout-only restaurant with a local clientele, Lynds said.
But for some in the audience, the issues went beyond zoning and became a battle over the openness and inclusiveness of Beacon Hill as a neighborhood. "It's a snobby thing. It's upper class versus middle class," Gigi Cochrane, who lives at 9 Hawthorne Place, said after the board's decision.
Others spoke of Villa Mexico's value to the neighborhood. "This is very low-key, unobtrusive business. It’s not high-volume. They take their food, go back to their office, go back home. It provides gourmet food at a low price ... They've proven over six years to be great neighbors," David Nincic, of 152 Mt. Vernon St., said.
Tom Clemens, who spoke against the application on behalf of the Beacon Hill Civic Association's Zoning and Licensing Board, which denied it in December, agreed that King has been a good neighbor, but said that 12 Grove St. wasn't an appropriate space for the restaurant.
"The board made the right decision even though it was a difficult decision under the circumstances," he said after the meeting. The criteria for a variance – that not granting it would be a hardship on the building owner and that the new use would not be harmful to the area – were not met, he said.
The 400-square-foot space is not by itself large enough for residential use but some speakers pointed out that it could be combined with other ground floor space to create a bigger apartment.
“For us to sanction something, this is not going to further unite the neighborhood," Shortsleeve said, commenting on the fact that neighbors as well as city officials were divided on the application. Michael Ross supported it with conditions, but at-large councilors Ayanna Pressley, John Connolly and Stephen Murphy opposed it.
Julie and Bessie King, visibly emotional after the ruling, declined to comment immediately. Julie King did not offer specifics about the next step for her restaurant.