Midway bids again to expand

May 2, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

WASHINGTON ST.—Close to 15 years after it first proposed expansion, and after half a dozen appearances before the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA), the Midway Café is making one more bid to expand.

The last time David Balerna—owner of the bar at 3496 Washington St.—went before the city to request a conditional use permit to expand the capacity of his bar from 60 to 99 people was in January, 2005. When the recent version of his plans was approved at the April 24 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Zoning Committee, Balerna said he had delayed resubmitting his proposal because of pride.

“I just don’t like to get spanked that many times in my lifetime,” he said. Balerna goes before the (ZBA) for final approval on May 6.

Balerna owns the row of storefronts at 3492-3498 Washington. He plans, he said, to expand into space currently occupied by McCormack and Scanlan Real Estate on the corner of Washington and Williams streets. He hopes to relocate McCormick and Scanlan within the building, he said.

While Balerna had a contentious relationship with his neighbors in the late 1990s, by the time of the 2005 ZBA hearing, those issues had been worked out, the Gazette reported at the time.

“Between 2002 and the summer of 2004 is really when the Midway really turned around—they made themselves a good neighbor,” Maureen Monks, coordinator of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA), said at the time.

Monks recently told the Gazette that problems with the Midway were what originally inspired the formation of the SNA in the mid-1990s. Since then, she said, it has “done a 180-degree turnaround into being a good neighbor,” she said.

Problems with traffic, trash and noise have disappeared, she said, and Balerna has been great about helping out with community projects and events both with “donations and his own labor.”

The only opposition to Midway’s bid in 2004 came from the office of Mayor Thomas Menino. At that time a representative from the Mayor’s Office told the ZBA at the 2005 hearing that the Mayor’s Office wanted the Midway to comply with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) it had signed with the SNA for a period of one year before it resubmitted its proposal. By the time of the 2005 hearing, the MOU had been in effect for six months.

Maura Hennigan, then an at-large City Councilor, described the board’s 2005 rejection as “blatantly political” at the time, but declined to elaborate on the point.

The Mayor’s Office’s current JP Coordinator, Colleen Keller, said the Mayor’s Office, as a condition of a lawsuit brought against the City by Balerna, is not taking a position on the bar owner’s latest bid.

Despite some confusion about the actual plans Balerna presented to them at the April 24 meeting, the Zoning Committee voted to approve Balerna’s bid, pending a follow-up review by Zoning Committee and JPNC member Steven Lussier. That review was satisfactory, Lussier said at the April 29 meeting of the JPNC, and the council approved the plan.

The Zoning Committee also asked Balerna to work with the SNA to update the MOU and confirm an agreement with the owner of a nearby parking lot allowing Midway patrons to park there in the evening.

He is looking, he said, to open a second room where patrons can watch TV or talk with friends without being “directly involved with the live music” the bar often features.

“I want to make it into a relaxed place,” he said.