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New Rules Proposed for Cedar Grove Catering Halls

Zoning ordinance would address parking issues at future facilities.

Updated 10:23 a.m.

Following resident complaints that overflow parking at The Grove catering hall on Pompton Avenue resulted in cars parking on side streets, the township has drawn up changes to the township's zoning code to more clearly define the parameters in which future facilities will operate.

Pending ordinance 11-729 would draw a clear distinction between a restuarant and a catering/banquet hall, and impose different parking regulations on each.

The pending ordinance defines a catering/banquet hall as: "A large room or group of rooms that typically provides waiter services for banquets, conventions, weddings and other similar gatherings with food and beverages that are preselected and either served at the table or self serve buffet style and is paid for on a per-person basis."

As for the new definition of a restaurant, the township proposes this language to define one in the township: "An establishment in which specific food and beverages are ordered, from a menu to a waiter, and prepared for consumption on the premises by small groups of patrons seated at tables, booths or counters and payment is made before leaving."

The proposed changes for banquet facilities will require one parking space for every three seats in the dining area, and one space for every 300 square feet of food preparation area. Additionally, one parking space will be required for every two members of the maximum number of serving staff based on the maximum capacity of the facility. Also, 25 percent of all required parking for the facility must be self-park (non-valet).

Restaurants would be required to offer a similar ratio of spaces-to-customers, and would have to provide one parking space for every two members of the staff, based on the maximum capacity of the facility.

Before these changes take effect, the Planning Board, who previously approved the number of parking spaces for The Grove, must approve the changes. Township Manager Thomas Tucci said the public hearing on the pending ordinance would be held in 45 days, or late June.

Residents of streets adjacent to the facility, including Young Avenue, Little Falls Road and Brunswick Road complained to the council in April that overflow parking from the 700-seat facility, which opened its doors in March, was creating a safety hazard for vehicles trying to turn onto Little Falls Road.

Dhimetrio Vasilopoulos, who owns The Grove, came to a council meeting in late April to discuss the issue with residents and the governing body. There, he assured the council and concerned residents that the parking situation would be resolved upon the completion of the hall's underground parking garage, which was set to be complete by Tuesday, May 17, or the facility would risk not being issued a temporary certificate of occupancy.

Furthermore, Vasilopolis said his employees have been explicitly instructed to never park their own vehicles anywhere but on The Grove's parking lot, and that the third-party valet company contracted with the hall have all been told not to park patrons' cars in the street.

At last month's council meeting, Tucci indicated the township had been reluctant to issue the facility a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy before the parking lot was completed in March, but was pressured to grant the certificate by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs following a "nasty letter" from an attorney for The Grove, which accused the township of "prejudice" against The Grove for not allowing them to occupy the building before the parking lot was completed.

"They had a criteria to try to help the business community because of the bad economy, they had leniency in issuing temporary [Certificates of Occupancy] that allowed [The Grove] to occupy the building even though the parking is not totally complete," he told the council.

In an interview Thursday, township construction code official John D'Ascensio said with this week's completion of 35 additional spaces in an underground parking garage, The Grove is in compliance with the Planning Board approval regarding parking, but must submit a letter today detailing the hall's plan to resolve ongoing plumbing issues or risk losing their temporary certificate of occupancy.

However, he noted, Vasilopolis himself told residents and the council at the April 18 council meeting that the parking would be completed in two weeks, a goal The Grove did not meet.

"I spoke to the owner a week ago. I said, look, these are the two things that are pressing. You said [the parking garage] would be done in two weeks, it's been three weeks, and it's still not resolved. You're going to have to bite the bullet and do what you have to do because you owe something to the residents of the community," D'Ascensio said.

"The parking issue affects neighbors and the township, the plumbing issue affects anyone who's a patron. It's either, you do it the right way or you don't get the [Temporary Certificate of Occupancy]." 

D'Ascensio said the parking situation at The Grove is "an ongoing issue" that will be continually monitored by the construction department to ensure compliance.

Tucci said in an email Tuesday that the proposed changes to the code would not be applied retroactively to Cedar Grove's current roster of catering facilities, but will only be applied to future applicants.

"The code update is driven by the changing trends in the restaurant/catering/banquet business," he said.

Vasilopolis did not return calls for comment.

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