Residents who want a neighborhood place where they can go with kids for some food squared off with residents who not only don't want pizza but want Harvard to bring back the retail stores it drove out, at a Boston Licensing Board hearing on a proposed pizza restaurant at barren Barry's Corner.
The board votes tomorrow on whether to let Stone Hearth Pizza, which has outlets in Cambridge, Needham and Belmont, turn a vacant Citgo station owned by Harvard into a restaurant with a beer and wine license.
Amie Searles, who lives nearby, rose to support the proposed eatery, which would be open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and until 10 p.m. the rest of the week. She said she and her friends with kids would love to have a neighborhood place they could walk to after a trip to the library, rather than having to get in their cars to drive somewhere.
City Councilor Mark Ciommo noted he normally opposes new liquor licenses, but told the board that after visiting the Stone Hearth Pizza in Belmont, he decided it was worth his support as "a good use for that property." He said he was "really pleased" to walk into the Belmont restaurant and "see infants and toddlers with bottles of a different sort."
Lorraine Bossi of the Allston Brighton Improvement Association, who normally opposes new liquor licenses as well, said she also supported the proposal, after eating three times at Stone Hearth restaurants. "A woman alone doesn't feel ill at ease there," she said, adding she was speaking for herself, not the association. "I think this is a tremendous operation. I wish we had them in Brighton."
But Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association, which narrowly opposed the proposal, said Allston just has too many pizza places, with or without beer.
Berkeley said Harvard created a neighborhood mess by buying up so many buildings and driving out the tenants. Harvard pushing a pizza place, he said, was like the Menendez brothers pleading for mercy because they became orphans when they killed their parents.
And he said he objected to Harvard treating Allston like "a colony of Homer Simpsons" who just want to sit around eating pizza and drinking beer. Berkeley said Allston already has too many liquor licenses and too many pizza places and that he would oppose Stone Hearth even if they didn't want a beer and wine license. If Harvard is serious about improving the neighborhood, it should use some of its vacant land and buildings for retail outlets the neighborhood really needs, such as the old Kmart.
In response, Licensing Board member Suzanne Ianella noted that the North End, which is far smaller than Allston, has three times as many restaurants with liquor licenses as Allston.
Other residents opposed to the proposal raised the specter of Stone Hearth returning in a couple of years for a full liquor license - they pointed to Smoken Joe's in Brighton Center - of people dying at the hands of drunken patrons careening out of the parking lot.
Dennis Quilty, the restaurant's attorney, said that because of neighborhood concerns about the fate of the license, Stone Hearth Pizza decided to seek a "restrictive" malt and wine license, which means it can't sell it to somebody else should the business go under.
"This particular area is far away from the hustle and bustle, if you will, of Harvard Avenue and Brighton Avenue," he added.
The hearing grew testy when one opponent wondered whether Ciommo paid for his meal at the Belmont restaurant. Acting board Chairman Michael Connolly told him to back off. "That's as unethical a question as anyone could ask," he thundered.
Jonathan Schwartz, one of the small chain's principals, said the proof the chain would never seek to serve hard liquor comes in its current five-year operations, during which it has maintained beer and wine licenses only. He said the chain actually closed its Sudbury restaurant rather than seek the full liquor license he said it would have taken to keep it in business.