The McDonald's at Harvard and Commonwealth avenues has became the latest battleground in a rapidly escalating war over restaurant closing hours in Allston.
Bob King, owner of the franchise, told the Boston Licensing Board today that McDonald's will make him shut the outlet unless he can increase sales - and the only way for him to do that, especially with a competing Kelly's opening up across the street, is to extend the current 11 p.m. closing time to 2 a.m.
The board decides tomorrow whether to grant the request. King originally sought 3 a.m.; over the past year, a number of Allston restaurants have sought board permission to open until 3 a.m.; the board has scaled all back.
The hearing at times became a debate over the way the Allston Civic Association conducts its meetings, with local business owners saying they were shouted down by association President Paul Berkeley when they tried to speak in favor of the extended hours. Berkeley, who opposes the later hours, apologized at the board hearing to one lawyer for cutting him off. The issue is important because the licensing board normally takes no action on a license request until after hearing from the local civic association.
King, who operates 24-hour McDonald's at South Station and in Saugus and Somerville, said that if nothing else, simple fairness dictates he should be allowed to open until at least 2 a.m. - the closing time the board gave Kelly's last year.
"We must be able to compete fairly with them to prevent us from being closed down," he said. "All we ask is to give us the opportunity to step to the plate and let us compete. We haven't and won't let Allston down." He said he would install security cameras and work closely with local police to ensure the restaurant continues its current unblemished record, and would hire eight to ten additional workers with the later hours.
Bob Weber, owner of Model Hardware and president of the Allston Board of Trade, said he's not necessarily in favor of early-morning hours for restaurants, but told the board it would be unfair to not let McDonald's be given the same chance as Kelly's and other restaurants. "McDonald's is one of the most benign things around," he said, adding it's also unfair to blame restaurants and other non-liquor-serving establishment for problems caused by local bars.
Pokaski retorted that the board has to balance business needs with "a right to the private enjoyment of your home. ... We also have to take into consideration the people who live around the premises. ... We're lucky enough to have a city people like to live in."
He said the board set no precedent by giving Kelly's the right to stay open until 2 a.m. because the board considers each case separately. Currently, restaurants along Harvard Avenue have closing times that range from midnight to 3 a.m.
Pokaski noted a letter in opposition to later hours at the McDonald's from District D-14 Capt. James Hussey. "Obviously, they want people to go home," he said. "They don't want people hanging around the Allston/Brighton area. ... What you don't want to see is people hanging around at 2, 2:30, 3 'oclock because they're eating a Big Mac, or sitting in their car eating a Big Mac."
Weber said he doubted a McDonald's would add all that much noise to an already crowded area - and that most of the people who live on or near Harvard Avenue are probably the sort of people who would appreciate another late-night dining option.
Joshua Krefetz, a local attorney who was speaking for himself, said that at the civic-association meeting every resident who lived near the restaurant and who spoke, spoke in favor. Only people who "live on the other side of the Mass. Pike" spoke against, he said. Krefetz said the confusing set of closing times mean D-14 officers have to use a spreadsheet to figure out which places can be open as they patrol the neighborhood.
Scott Matalon, owner of Stingray Body Art and vice president of Allston Village Main Streets, said inconsistent hours are "causing great problems" for local business groups trying to attract news businesses to the area. "We would like to see some consistency in closing hours," partly because of fairness, partly because people are simply safe inside a well lit restaurant or cafe than walking down a dark street. He didn't buy the argument that if every place shut at the same time, the result would be chaos in the streets of Allston, because Allston's the sort of place where that would have happened long ago no matter what, and it hasn't.
Berkeley, though, pointed to an early morning murder in February at Harvard and Brighton avenues as proof the last thing the neighborhood needs is later hours. Already, he said, "we're sort of the unwilling host of a big party every night." He did agree consistency is important, but that his group would want to see consistent closing hours earlier in the evening than 2 or 3 a.m.