IHOP may replace former bar in Westbury

Lou Lagnese, of Bethpage, says he is worried

Lou Lagnese, of Bethpage, says he is worried the construction of an IHOP where Don Juan bar used to be will deflate the resale value of his mother's house, which is directly behind the proposed location on Old Country Road in Westbury. (Oct. 26, 2012) (Credit: Johnny Milano)

When Don Juan's was open, the Westbury restaurant and nightclub was "jumping," recalled Gloria Monitto, a longtime neighborhood resident.

It was also crowded and rowdy -- parked cars and discarded beer bottles lined the streets, neighbors remembered -- and toward the end of its run, was the site of a 2008 shooting that left one dead and three injured.

Now, an IHOP is looking to move in. But the memory of the troubled nightclub -- which was in business at 535 Old Country Rd. near Ellison Avenue for more than a decade, but closed not long after the execution-style shooting -- remains fresh in some residents' minds.

"It was really bad," recalled Lou Lagnese, who owns a home near the proposed IHOP site. Monitto, who also chairs the village safety commission, said nightclub patrons were especially unruly.

"They'd come out drunk, they'd come out of the restaurant, and some of them would urinate into people's driveways, into the bushes."

While some shell-shocked residents admit a restaurant beats a bar, they fear commercial properties encroaching on residential ones. And if the IHOP fails, they say, they could be in the same predicament as when Don Juan's was open -- or worse.

The village is weighing plans to rezone the property by tearing down a house and the former Footsie's bar to replace them with parking. That proposal doesn't sit well with some neighbors.

"There's no need to take a house down and take it away from the residential community," said Bill Lux, who lives near the proposed lot on Ellison Avenue. "Where does it stop?"

Village Mayor Peter Cavallaro said the proposed lot would alleviate parking, by adding 17 spaces to the site. And it would be a buffer between commercial and residential properties.

"The way it is now, you have an abrupt break with commercial and residential," he said.

Despite assurances that a pancake house will be less toxic to the community than Don Juan's, residents remain wary of developers' plans.

"It's nice that it's a pancake house," Lagnese said, but wondered what might happen if it went out of business, and its variance would still be valid. "We're trusting the business owner that he's going to stay in business, and not get a liquor license."

After a public hearing this month, the village said it would not rule on whether it would rezone the land, pending the results of a traffic and parking study, and additional hearings in November. But Cavallaro said he was inclined to support it.

Monitto said the safety commission will study the plans and issue a recommendation to the village. Currently, she's "on the fence," but she pointed out that "a pancake house is much better than a bar."

Lagnese, the neighbor, said he was worried about the impact of a bigger parking lot on his property taxes.

Bill DiConza, Lagnese's attorney, argued that a smaller business should be installed there. Code requires the IHOP to accommodate for 124 parking spaces, but with the new lot, it should have only 55.

"They're going to park on the side streets."

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