When the son of auto publishing magnate Keith Crain saved a vintage auto repair shop from demolition three years ago, Berkley residents hailed the move.
And after investor K.C. Crain recruited a celebrated Clarkston restaurateur to create an auto-themed eatery, they got kudos from restaurant critics as well as car buffs.
Yet residents who live near the fashionable Vinsetta Garage on Woodward Avenue near 11 Mile complained almost since it opened that hordes of patrons park on their side streets. The patrons litter, linger and then speed off after monopolizing on-street parking almost every night, said Jack Guirey, 88, a retired auditor who lives on Oxford Road.
"I've lived here for 51 years. This was a quiet neighborhood until the restaurant came," Guirey said.
For him, the last straw was when Vinsetta Garage bought three houses at the end of his block to demolish and convert to a parking lot. Guirey and his neighbors say they believe that the lot will drop their property values faster than Vinsetta Garage diners order french fries and cheese curds with their beer and custard milkshakes.
Residents plan to jam City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Berkley Planning Commission is to meet.
"This entire street will be there" to oppose the restaurant's request to rezone the three homes for the parking lot, said Sarah Cahill, 32, whose house faces what would be the new lot.
The dispute is a familiar one to planners up and down Woodward. As businesses expand, the need for more parking is a big challenge in older urban areas, said Debbie Schutt, executive director of the nonprofit Woodward Avenue Action Association, a combined urban-planning and promotion group.
Opening the restaurant was "a great adaptive reuse" of a landmark building, bringing visitors to Berkley from across the region, Schutt said.
"Unfortunately, when things are that successful, parking is often a problem," she said. As the season returns for Woodward dream cruising in classic cars, the parking war on Oxford is bound to morph from intense to frantic.
To ease the crunch, Woodward needs mass transit and bike lanes — and where new parking lots are a must, they should include outdoor seating, landscaping and decorative walls and lighting "to provide a beautiful entry into the neighborhood," Schutt said.
Berkley's master plan notes that most commercial lots on Woodward "are rather shallow, and that can be limiting to development," Berkley City Planner Amy Vansen said.
"Some cities have a line and say, this is going to be the border between commercial and residential," but Berkley handles the transitions on a case-by-case basis, Vansen said.
Any decision to allow parking where homes once stood rests with planning commissioners and City Council members, Berkley City Manager Jane Bais-DiSessa said.
Still, "that has been the formula for success in the past," she said.
Other Woodward businesses in Berkley, as well as in Birmingham, Pleasant Ridge and Royal Oak, have knocked down homes or made other changes to residential areas as they grew, including the closure of some side streets at Woodward, Berkley officials said.
Residents near the Vinsetta Garage said they are bitter that the restaurant gained city approval to open in 2012 by promising to use a bank's oversized parking lot that is a block north of the restaurant. But the restaurant's co-owner, Curt Catallo, admitted that he doesn't expect anyone to park there because he considers it to be an impractically long walk from his venue.
Catallo, 46, of Clarkston also owns award-winning restaurants in Clarkston and Fenton, each housed inside a repurposed historic building.
In Clarkston, he co-owns with his wife the Clarkston Union, built in an 1840-era church, and the Union Woodshop, which had been the Clarkston Cafe dating from the 1920s. The couple also own the Fenton Firehall, converted from Fenton's 1938-era fire station.
Residents who live near the Vinsetta Garage should remember that when the repair shop closed, the building almost was leveled to put up a Taco Bell, Catallo said.
"I don't think that would've helped anyone's property values," he said. Although his proposed parking lot on Oxford Road is a block south of the Vinsetta Garage, getting to it would be a quick trip on southbound Woodward for valet parking attendants, who could sprint back to the restaurant on foot, he said.
What residents aren't counting on at Tuesday's meeting is that Catallo said he would ask to adjourn his request to rezone the three houses he bought. Reached Friday after city offices closed, Catallo revealed a surprise that's bound to further rile the residents — he's buying a fourth house for the proposed lot.
He could not say how many spaces the lot would hold. But Catallo said he's sure that will resolve the neighborhood's parking woes.
"We want to come back to the city in June with the full plan, all four houses in it," Catallo said.
Contact Bill Laitner: 313-223-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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