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Huntington studies new rules for small restaurants, taverns

From left, Vito DeFeo, Edwin Ochoa and Philip

From left, Vito DeFeo, Edwin Ochoa and Philip Cataldo, of Viajo's Restaurant in Huntington, on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. DeFeo says he has lost business because he can't get a liquor license for his eatery. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When Vito DeFeo opened Viajos Pizza and Pasta in 1998, he obtained a Huntington Town permit that allowed him to apply to the state for a license to serve beer and wine.

The shop closed in 2011, and when he reopened it in May, he was surprised to learn he could no longer serve beer and wine, because he didn’t meet “current town public assembly requirements,” according to town board member Tracey Edwards.

Now officials are working to create a new classification for small eateries — a bistro category — in an effort to help owners be more competitive.

A bistro classification would allow restaurants such as dine-in pizzerias and coffee shops to double their number of seats and apply for liquor licenses if they meet the state requirements.

Huntington’s town code has only two classifications: food shops, which cannot have more than 15 seats and cannot serve alcohol; and restaurants, which must have a floor plan of at least 2,500 square feet.

Under the new classification, bistros would be permitted to have one seat for every 65 square feet of total gross floor area, up to a maximum of 38 seats for a 2,500-square-foot bistro.

“When I started researching the issue, it was obvious to me we needed to have another category,” said Edwards, who sponsored a public hearing resolution on the issue. “We have smaller restaurants that don’t fit neatly into a food shop, which I would consider a deli, or a large restaurant, which is over 2,500 square feet. These type of establishments are primarily in strip malls with small business owners who need to have the ability to be competitive.”

DeFeo said after reopening, longtime customers were happy to see him back in the neighborhood, but would leave when told he was no longer serving alcohol.

“I’m extremely pleased that the town is working to try to resolve this,” DeFeo said.

Bistros would also have to meet parking requirements of one parking space per 200 square feet, and would be barred from having drive-through access.

Some officials have raised concerns about the impact on downtown Huntington’s already overtaxed parking situation.

“It’s going to put an increased burden on the parking, which is already a big problem,” said Jack Palladino, president of the Huntington Village Business Improvement District.

“Until they do something about the parking, there’s nothing like that that should be done,” he said. “If you want to expand, go to a bigger space that’s already gone through the parking, zoning process.”

The proposed change to town code would also separate the definition of a tavern/bar from restaurant.

Under the new definition, a tavern/bar would be an establishment that doesn’t provide kitchen facilities for food at all times and does not have seating at tables and chairs for 90 percent of the allowable number of patrons.

A public hearing on the bistro classification and other proposed changes is to be held Tuesday at Town Hall.

Huntington’s proposed town code change would establish four eatery classifications:

Restaurants

Bistros

Food shops

Tavern/bar

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