April 29, 2010
Anger and accusations at ACA over restaurant closing times
Last week’s meeting of the Allston Civic Association (ACA) erupted into arguments and accusations that the group’s decisions were arbitrary, inconsistent and too personal. The meeting left some in Allston wondering if the longtime neighborhood organization and its members are too far out of touch with the current state of the neighborhood.
The anger began over a topic that has often been contentious at the ACA — restaurant closing times. On the agenda was a request from the owners of the McDonald’s on the corner of Commonwealth and Harvard Avenues to extend their nighttime hours of operation from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Lindsay Wallin, representing her father, Bob King, the owner of the franchise, attended the meeting in order to make the presentation to the ACA. She said the expansion of hours is necessary in order to compete with the soon to open Kelly’s Roast Beef that will be located across the street and have a 2 a.m. closing time.
“We asked for three, but we would have taken two just to be on the same level as Kelly’s,” Wallin said. “I was shocked and flabbergasted with the way I was treated at the meeting. It really seemed as though they had made up their minds before we even got there.”
At the meeting many residents who regularly attend ACA meetings spoke up against the plan to expand the hours of operation, but the argument began when ACA member Scott Matalon spoke in favor of the idea.
Matalon owns the Stingray tattoo and piercing parlor on Cambridge Street. He is also the Vice President of Allston Village Main Streets and sits on the board of the Allston Board of Trade.
“I said that the Allston Board of Trade supports a consistent closing time for businesses in the area because that’s what’s fair,” Matalon said. “The way the ACA decides is inconsistent and arbitrary.”
ACA President, Paul Berkeley admits that he cut Matalon off at that point and went to another long-time ACA member, Sal Pinchera who spoke out against the plan.
“The discussion was kind of repetitive. Scott’s made this argument before,” Berkeley said. “I cut him off and said that the Board of Trade has the power to level the playing field, all they have to do is roll their hours back to 12 and then I just said, next.”
That’s when Allston lawyer Joshua Krefetz spoke up. Krefetz said he has been attending ACA meeting for the past few months and has questioned how the organization comes to its decisions.
“I have a big problem with the way the meetings are conducted,” Krefetz said. “There are no notes taken, no minutes and I have not seen any attendance taken. The vote is never officially counted or taken down. It’s all just sort of off the cuff.”
Krefetz accused Berkeley of not letting Matalon speak and the two went back and forth on the issue.
“A variety of people were able to speak as long as they wanted against McDonald’s,” Krefetz said. “When Scott brought up the inconsistencies of the closing times, Paul Berkeley basically told him to shut up and called on someone else. I told him that I thought Scott was just not saying what he wanted to hear. That’s when Berkeley ended the debate and took a vote.”
A vote was taken with a majority of ACA members in attendance choosing to not approve the McDonald’s proposal.
“And then he pointed at me, looking at Lindsay [Wallin] and said, ‘You can have him to thank,’” Krefetz said.
Berkeley admits, “I did kind of lose my cool.”
“It’s always the same argument these restaurants make when they want to stay open later and later, they say they want to sober up the customers before they go home and we just want them to go home,” Berkeley said.
Only ACA members can vote on proposals at ACA meetings. Berkeley said that he does not allow people to join at the meetings in order to prevent those who come before them from stacking the meeting with friends.
Krefetz, whose office is located in Allston and lives in Brighton, said he has tried to get Berkeley to explain to him how one goes about joining the ACA but has not been satisfied with the answer.
“He told me to email him and then practically ran from the room,” Krefetz said.
Bob Webber is the president of the Allston Board of Trade. He did not attend the contentious ACA meeting, but he, along with Krefetz and Matalon planned to show their support for McDonald’s at the April 28 Licensing Board Hearing at City Hall. The Board will decide whether to take the ACA recommendation to reject the extended hours.
“I understand that the ACA wants to protect the residents, but I think they’re stuck in an archaic time warp,” Webber said. “This area, like it or not, has fewer families and more students. It’s just the way it is. Are we going to get more families living in this area? I don’t know. It is what it is and it seems as though the ACA hasn’t changed with the times. I’m not even sure if the people who do live in that area know what the ACA is.”
Krefetz agrees with Webber and questions whether the ACA is really serving the community in the business district.
“Many people, including myself, who live and work here, chose to do so because of what this area offers as far as an urban cosmopolitan setting,” Krefetz said. “If I wanted to live in the suburbs, I would move to the suburbs, but if you live in Allston you know what you’re getting — a lively business district. This is the only place in the city where you can get any kind of food and clothes you want.”
According to Berkeley, who has served as the ACA’s president since 1995 when the organization first incorporated, the mission statement of the ACA is to preserve and protect residential quality of life in Allston and Brighton.
“We’re not a business group,” Berkeley said.
This differs from the statement in the ACA’s Articles of Organization on file with the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
The articles state that the ACA meets monthly to review, discuss, question and vote on any proposal brought forth for the purpose of gathering or forming community consensus. Any applicant for a liquor license, entertainment licenses or zoning variance or amendment to such in the Allston or Brighton area deemed to have potential impacts to the community shall be requested to appear before the ACA to present their plans to the membership.
Berkeley said that he serves a two-year term as president and has been voted in by the board each time.