Disputed fence fails to make good neighbors in Rome
ROME — A dispute over a fence between two neighboring downtown businesses — Franca’s Wine Room and Copperccino’s — became a heated debate when owners and members of the community spoke out in support of the coffee shop during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting held in Council Chambers of City Hall.
According to a post earlier in the week on social media, Copperccino’s owners Michael Brown and David Amidon asked local residents and loyal customers to come speak out against the wrought iron fencing installed adjacent to their business by neighboring Franca’s.
Council Chambers were packed with supporters of Copperccino’s, 254 W. Dominick St. Also commenting on the issue and defending their business were Paul Dowd and Glenn Erikson, co-owners of Franca’s. Erikson also owns the plaza housing Franca’s, Copperccino’s, Boyz of Italy and The Balanced Chef.
“We will be discussing the commandeering of the taxpayer-funded streetscape by a neighboring business for its own use,” the post read. “Squarely an issue for both the Mayor’s Office and the Common Council — this issue has not been adequately dealt with.”
According to Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo, the “landlord-tenant issue” goes back to the day before Thanksgiving when Copperccino’s notified the city that Franca’s had erected the fence — about a foot or so away from their business’ front door. After the holiday, the mayor said Franca’s was contacted, and it was discovered that one of the owners — now former partner — installed the fence and “didn’t clear it” with the city.
The reason given for installing the fence, Izzo said, was so Franca’s, 260 W. Dominick St., could adhere to state Liquor Authority requirements for an outdoor liquor license due to the Open Container Law.
Izzo said Tuesday, Franca’s “ordered a new fence” that was shorter and had a latch or crash bar as opposed to a lock, which coincides with some of the landscaping in the Copper City Commons area.
“In order to be granted a license, people can’t wander” with an alcoholic beverage down to neighboring businesses like Copperccino’s or The Balanced Chef, the mayor said. “They need to stay within that area.”
However, she said Franca’s needed to apply for a permit from the city Public Works Department “because it is a public space.”
But by applying for the permit and removing the current fencing, the issue “got straightened out and is now rectified,” the mayor added.
During the Common Council meeting, several supporters of Copperccino’s voiced their opposition for the fencing, stating the coffee shop was losing business because of it, and that the common area was meant to be an open, public space.
“A fence has gone up in front of Copperccino’s, which prohibits outdoor seating” and customers “aren’t able to access the space,” said Melissa Bowles, of Mustang Drive. “When I moved here almost three years ago, Copperccino’s was one of the first places to go and it was always a space where I could feel safe and welcome. I don’t know how important it is for the city to attract new people here, but it’s important to make it a destination to attract people...That area needs to be unencumbered by neighboring businesses.”
Joseph Samson and his wife Kelly, of Trenton, said they came to support Copperccino’s, a big reason why they choose to visit Rome.
“The wrought iron fence excludes Copperccino’s customers for outdoor patio use and I don’t know how this can be permitted or allowed,” Joe Samson said. “We come to your city and hope to partake in things, but if you see things like this, it’s a discouragement for coming. We ask that you look into it and how it can be rectified.”
“It’s an eyesore,” Kelly Samson added. “This establishment (Copperccino’s) is lovely...and it’s a wonderful addition to the Rome area, and I hope you do something for these owners.”
Shelly Gardner, 118 River St., called out council members and department heads to hold a hearing about Copperccino’s and to maintain government “transparency.” She also used the opportunity to announce her candidacy for Second Ward councilor against Republican Committee-endorsed candidate and incumbent John B. Mortise.
Paula Mallard, of Urbandale Parkway, called for the city to support small businesses like Copperccino’s that help the city be more diverse and welcoming to a younger generation.
“What we can bring to Rome to make it more community-oriented is something we all need to think about,” Mallard said. “To have a fence put up in front of a business and the inappropriate way it came about — my heart sunk.”
Copperccino’s Co-owner Brown said when opening four years ago, the coffee shop “extensively” used the outdoor seating area, which was a big part of the business.
“Losing it will devastate us as summer rolls around,” Brown said. “We see something the day before Thanksgiving going up and we were told it was a clear violation of city ordinances, yet nothing was done and all of a sudden, here we are. It’s fast approaching outdoor seating season, and we still have a fence a foot from our door. It was an unlawful installation of fencing without permits.”
By not doing something, “the city is opening itself up to litigation by not following its own rules on its own ordinances,” continued the owner, adding that as a former member of the Main Street Alliance, he was excited for the city’s creation of Copper City Commons through Downtown Revitalization Committee funding. “That this is over a liquor license is bull. This is negatively impacting our bottom line.”
Glenn Erikson, part owner of Franca’s and owner of the plaza, commended Copperccino’s for being “great tenants,” and said like The Balanced Chef, he loaned money — $40,000 — to Copperccino’s to help get it off the ground.
“This is the response I’ve gotten after I talked with the bookkeeper three or four times and sent paperwork, so they knew what was going on,” Erikson said, referring to Brown and Amidon.
As for the fencing “We had a partner, Brian Snow, who is no longer with us” because he had the fencing installed on his own. “We had more of a conversation with Brian and he is no longer a partner. Once we found out what he had done” we “talked to the Mayor’s Office and made a commitment to install a smaller fence” without a lock, “but we couldn’t do it until we had our liquor license,” said Erikson. “As part of the license, we had to have a fence for the outdoor area because of an issue with the location (outdoors). If we serve liquor” to someone “and they give it to a minor, then we lose our liquor license and as a wine bar, we lose the business.”
Erikson said Copperccino’s also used temporary fencing for two years in the outdoor seating area that “blocked movement back and forth across the courtyard. They didn’t have a permit, but we have a permit.”
Copperccino’s Co-owner Amidon followed and stated that he was unaware of Snow’s true intent for installing the fence, “But the harassment we’ve lived through and the threats we’ve faced by both the building owner and business owners has been ridiculous...As for the fence, there’s an understanding there was some kind of agreement” with the city “but we don’t know who the agreement was made with and there’s no permit...We just want a resolution to the problem thrown at us.”
Dowd, co-owner of Franca’s, said, “OK, the fence is an issue, let’s resolve this.” However, he stated that since working with Erikson to fix up the plaza and recruit other businesses for tenants, “which everyone here wants, especially Copperccino’s,” but with every improvement the coffee shop owners have “had major complaints.”
“Somehow there was always a problem and they felt they were being personally attacked, which isn’t the case,” Dowd said. “They’ve done stuff without codes and permits, and this thing is so hypocritical, it’s making me sick. I’m a business who invested in the city who wants to make money as well...Every store in the complex has a front and back where they can service customers and Franca’s does not have that.”
Mayoral candidate and retired Rome Police detective Jeffrey Lanigan, who will face off against Izzo in the Republican Primary, said he has normally not spoken at Common Council meetings he has attended over the last 4-5 months, but felt compelled to speak about the Copper City Commons fencing issue.
“The fact that this got to this point is absolutely ridiculous,” Lanigan said. “As a city we shouldn’t be getting involved with small business issues or issues with a liquor license. The fence should’ve been taken down the next day” it was installed “and if not, the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the two businesses and the Liquor Authority could have resolved this. To be here three months after, with the fence disrupting their (Copperccino’s) business is absolutely not acceptable.”
He asked, “Who is responsible if someone gets hurt on that fence; wouldn’t the taxpayers be liable? Through lack of action, the city could be held accountable and then it hits everyone in this room. The favoritism and nepotism of this administration disturbs me...and I promise with mine, that will end.”
During councilor reports, Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers stated that it was “unfortunate” the fencing issue had gotten to this point, adding that Brown and Amidon had notified her when the fence was installed.
“Personally, I think the city expended a lot of public funds — DRI funds — which is why it’s called Copper City Commons,” said Rogers. “Fences don’t give the impression” that it’s a public space, “I don’t care how big it is or how many signs there are directing people. It doesn’t look like a public space.”
Because of conflicting information gathered during the public portion of the meeting, Rogers then asked Public Works Commissioner Butch Conover if Franca’s owners did have a valid permit.
“Yes there is a permit. It just got issued,” said Conover, with his comments met by laughs from some in attendance.
Rogers continued, “The problem is this got to a point that it shouldn’t have gotten to. I agree that the best case scenario is that we have no fence. It provides for better aesthetics and public movement, and we want to move people to other businesses and the theatre” along West Dominick Street.
The councilor then made reference to the Mayor of Oswego who created a social district in his downtown area which allowed visitors to move from place to place with alcoholic beverages, without being confined to one space, which “sets a precedence for the Liquor Authority.”
“Sometimes you have to look forward and outside the box for a way to solve a problem,” said Rogers. “How this came to be is that there wasn’t enough foresight on what could have happened. A fence a foot beside another business’ open door doesn’t provide an image of what the whole DRI project was for.”
Rogers also questioned how a gate could keep customers inside and prevent minors from drinking.
“This is definitely not an easy situation, but it can be resolved if smart people sit down and figure it out without personalities getting in the way,” she said. “I want to see Franca’s succeed too. Both successes are what make downtown work. I think it’s terrible that this thing has been going on since November, and the city is just now issuing a permit.”
The councilor then offered to act as a “conduit” between the two businesses to work out a solution, preferably one that doesn’t include a fence.
“Be creative instead of fighting with each other about it,” Rogers advised.
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