Fans of outdoor dining at Pizzeria Molto, a restaurant in the Brick Walk shopping center that opened in 2009, will soon have to eat standing up.
The Town Plan and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to revoke its approval of outdoor dining at the 1215 Post Road eatery after the zoning-enforcement staff reported that Molto had expanded its approved area for outdoor dining despite a decision in April by the Zoning Board of Appeals forbidding it.
"He's occupying space he was specifically denied to occupy," Assistant Town Planner James Wendt told commission members.
Bryan LeClerc, the TPZ chairman, said Wendt had sent emails to Molto about the violation and that Zoning Enforcement Officer Matt Decker had visited the restaurant, but their instructions to correct the citation have been ignored.
Wendt said the expanded outdoor dining area on the Post Road sidewalk is in place primarily on busy Fridays and weekends, and that the issue has been a concern to ZBA members who denied the recent expansion bid.
A representative from Molto, or Al and Ken Kleban, who own the shopping center, were not available late Tuesday to comment.
The ZBA on April 5 unanimously denied Molto's plan to add 135 square feet to its existing 276 square feet of outdoor dining based on how much the extra proposed space would encroach on the sidewalk. Duncan Keith, a ZBA member who led the discussion to deny the application from Brick Walk Associates, LLC, said at the time that the wide sidewalk enables pedestrians to walk side-by-side and encourages window shopping and socializing. The sidewalk would have been reduced in width by five feet if two sections of outdoor dining totaling 135 square feet were added.
Brick Walk Associates, LLC, the property owner, needed the ZBA to approve a waiver of four required parking spaces for the extra outdoor seating space, but the ZBA voted 5-0 against the request.
On Tuesday night, LeClerc said he was troubled by Molto's apparent expansion of the outdoor dining area despite denial of its request to do so. "We can entertain a motion to revoke approval for outdoor dining. That's maybe one way to handle it," LeClerc said.
Wendt said if Molto -- which has a liquor permit -- has been serving alcohol to patrons in the additional seating area, that would violate its permit since, technically, it would be serving alcohol off-site. "We can let the Liquor Commission know they are not in compliance," he said.
Seth Baratz, the TPZ vice chairman, didn't have a problem with revoking outdoor dining at Molto. "The decision of any land-use board, including the Zoning Board of Appeals, needs to be respected. I would strongly urge us to take action," he said. "They were specifically denied a use, and they're doing it anyway."
TPZ member James Kennelly said Baratz was "absolutely correct." "I'm frankly stunned at this kind of behavior," he said, adding that it is not fair to "all the businesses who have complied with the letter of the law."
Town officials said Molto could reapply to have its existing outdoor dining area approved, though TPZ members likely would want an explanation of why the eatery had violated the Zoning Board of Appeals' denial of the expansion plan.