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Planning Board denies Bentley’s Bistro’s request for hour extension

Date: 7/25/2013

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – At its July 16 meeting, the Planning Board denied a request from the owners of Bentley’s Bistro to extend its hours to 2 a.m.

The board voted unanimously to deny the amendment to the special permit for the 53 North Main St. restaurant after the members voiced their opinions and heard multiple requests residents’ requests to continue requiring the restaurant to maintain its current closing times of midnight from Sunday to Wednesday and 1 a.m. on Thursday to Saturday.

Owners Janice and William Santaniello told the board that they didn’t wish to maintain an open restaurant until 2 a.m. regularly, but were looking to have the option to stay open under special circumstances, using recent hockey games that went into multiple overtimes and late-hour football games as examples.

“During the hockey season with the Bruins going into overtime, we had 30 to 40 people in the bar and we had to let them go,” he said. “Not that we’re going to stay open until 2 [a.m.], but just have the option for the extended hours instead of letting 40 or 50 people walk out the door. It does impact our business.”

Planning Board member Michael Przybylowicz took issue with the reasoning behind the request.

“You’ve got to understand that’s this is a sensitive area. You’re surrounded by homes,” he said, adding later, “You become a sports bar if you’re only staying open for those events. That’s not what the intention was when you came before us originally.”

Planning Board member Ralph Page later concurred with Przybylowicz’s assessment.

“East Longmeadow doesn’t allow bars, per se; we allow restaurants. I know I eat out all the time. I’m single, I’m constantly out, but I’ve never been out at 1 a.m. to eat at a restaurant,” he said. “If I’m going out to watch a ballgame, I tend to stay at a bar. I think 1 a.m. is very lenient for the weekend for a restaurant.”

Santaniello also said he and his wife have received feedback from late-shift workers, such as correctional officers at the Enfield, Conn., Correctional Institution, that if open later, Bentley’s would be an option for them, but because of their closing times, they take their business elsewhere.

Planning Board member George Kingston said he saw dangers in setting a precedent in allowing such flexibility.

“I’m kind of ambivalent about the 2 a.m. [closing time] at this point,” he said. “If it’s not going to be routine, if there’s a special event at some point, I don’t see why someone couldn’t come in for an exception for a single night, but in general, I think that 2 a.m., first of all, sets a precedent under special permit and, secondly, it allows them the flexibility to do that if they wanted to every night and we have to go by what’s in the special permit and not by assurances that may change over time.”

Brook Street resident Lynn Jackson, who owns property that abuts the restaurant from the rear, told the board that the bedrooms of her 3-year-old granddaughter and elderly mother face the restaurant and the noise from the establishment can be intrusive. She used the example of what sounded to be an altercation in the parking lot that she heard while on her property as an example.

Resident Marilyn Richards said she supports local restaurants and felt the current hours of operations were sufficient for restaurant dining.

“East Longmeadow is set up so our districts abut one another and we have to be good neighbors,” she said. “The residents need to understand that the restaurant needs to operate reasonably and the restaurant needs to understand that the residents need to have a good night’s rest. There’s no going to bed a 1 [a.m.] or 2 [a.m.] when there are people outside your property. It just creates an unsettling situation. This doesn’t sound like a restaurant; it sounds like a tavern or a bar and these are not allowed in East Longmeadow.”

Richards added the special permitting process was important in maintaining the control.

“Not once but twice special permits have been before the voters when it comes to restaurants and the town has overwhelmingly supported this particular level of control, if you will,” she said. “It’s good that we have an opportunity to hear what the neighbors have to say.”