Domino’s a tough sell

August 14, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

Over 80 turn out to oppose pizza franchise

CANARY SQ.—Over 80 people turned out at the Aug. 3 meeting of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) board—overflowing out of the conference room at the Rogerson House at 434 Jamaicaway—to oppose a proposed Domino’s Pizza.

The JPA board voted to 10-0-2 to oppose franchise owner Youssef Abourjalli’s petition before the city zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for permission to change the use of the storefront in the CVS building on the corner of Centre and Moraine streets to food service with take-out. The 461-467 Centre St. space was formerly occupied by Petal & Leaf Florist, which now has a storefront on South Street.

One member of the audience spoke in favor of the proposal, but the overwhelming and sometimes raucously expressed opinion of the vast majority of meeting attendees was in opposition. Early in the meeting, JPA Zoning Committee chair Kevin Moloney admonished the crowd for clapping and shouting in response to anti-Domino’s comments. “This is not a rally,” he said.

Abourjalli’s attorney, Anthony Ross of Roslindale, attempted to anticipate and address some of the criti-cisms of the Domino’s plan in his introductory presentation. Abourjalli is a local business owner, Ross said, who started as a Domino’s driver 20 years ago and now owns stores in Hyde Park, Mattapan and Dorchester.

He would be “hiring locally. He would be present and be a participant in the business community,” Ross said.

Ross also said it is likely that Domino’s would serve a different clientele than other area pizza par-lors, including the locally-owned Zesto’s Pizza and Grille across the street at 460 Centre St. Abourjalli’s stores rely on deliveries for 85 percent of their business, whereas other area establishments rely more on walk-in business, he said.

Later in the meeting Zesto’s owner George Vidianos said his restaurant does, in fact, do a brisk delivery business. “We go to Roslindale, Dedham, Roxbury, West Roxbury. We would go to Worcester if the order was good enough,” he said.

Vidianos and others, particularly residents on Moraine and Boylston streets, said they are concerned about extra traffic the delivery cars would create on neighborhood streets.

Steve Tomasi of Moraine Street said that cars already use that roadway as a “high-speed cut-through” to the Jamaicaway and that the addition of as many as five delivery cars on the weekends making multiple trips would likely exacerbate the situation.

Others noted that the five-way intersection, where Moraine and Boylston streets and S. Huntington Avenue feed onto Centre Street is already notoriously pedestrian unfriendly.

JPA member John Papson said the community has been opposed to chain restaurants on Centre Street for at least 50 years, when he recalled opposing plans to build a Jack In The Box hamburger restaurant in the park-ing lot across from the Curley School.

“We have a hard enough time up and down Centre Street maintaining a nice welcoming, warm environment,” and setting a precedent of allowing chains to move in would make that harder, he said.

JP residents and the JPA do have a history of opposing chains. The JPA opposed a bid by Dunkin’ Donuts to move into the same location at 461-467 Centre in 1998. More recently, in 2003, community opposition to chain restaurants blocked the opening of a Domino’s at 3700 Washington St. A D’Angelo’s Grilled Sandwiches restaurant considered opening at 672 Centre St. in 2006, but met with community opposition. That location is now the home of JP-based City Feed and Supply.

Judy Grant of Paul Gore Street, who works on public health issues for the Boston-based non-profit Corpo-rate Accountability International, was on hand to comment on some of the negative impacts of fast food on public health.

“Several studies tie the proximity of fast-food restaurants to schools to increased obesity at those schools,” she said, and the effect is amplified when the restaurant in question is a national chain spending millions of dollars on advertising.

The 461-467 Centre St. storefront is a few blocks down from the Curley K-8 School at 493 Centre St.

Grant later told the Gazette the article she was referring to is titled “Proximity of Fast-Food Restau-rants to Schools and Adolescent Obesity.” It was recently voted the most influential research on childhood obesity in the last year in a reader survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The one person who spoke in favor of the Domino’s bid, John Doench of Robinwood Avenue, said “something is better than nothing” in the vacant storefront.

Referring to unconfirmed estimates that there are already nine establishments that serve pizza in the immediate vicinity, “We could have made it eight and said why a ninth?” he said.

Ross later told the Gazette he is not sure whether his client will move forward with his plans.

“He has a lot to digest from [the meeting],” Ross said. “It was his first appearance [at a community meeting] and he got an earful. I think he is going to look at his business plan and see if he can’t make some changes.”

Ross suggested that Abourjalli might be looking at other uses for the space besides another Domino’s. “He negotiated a sub-lease, so he has the rights to the space if he can get a permitted use,” the lawyer said. “He is a pretty thoughtful and ambitious guy.”

Ross had previously told the Gazette that his client might consider branding the proposed pizza restau-rant as something other than a Domino’s. That suggestion did not come up at the Aug. 3 meeting. Speaking to the Gazette, Ross would not elaborate on his previous comments beyond saying, “That could be done in a number of ways that may make a difference or not make a difference.”

Aboujalli’s request for the food service and take-out license was scheduled for a hearing before the city ZBA early this month, but Ross told the Gazette he requested that hearing be deferred until October.

Ross said he appreciated the crowd at the JPA meeting’s civility. “I have been before a lot of groups in Boston…It is a credit to the JPA and the people who turned out that people expressed their views in a respectful way,” he said.

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