Pizzeria gets OK for new sign from Zoning Board
ROME — A request to install an electronic sign at the new Big Jay’s Pizza at 421 N. James St. was narrowly approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals during its monthly meeting held Wednesday in Common Council Chambers of City Hall.
Peter and Jason Jaegers, of GP Rome Properties, LLC, owners of Big Jay’s, had requested an area variance to replace their existing freestanding sign with a 4-foot by 8-foot digital message sign to advertise the business. According to city code, digital signs are prohibited in a C1 zone district.
The Jaegers said they’ve brought life back to the Main Street-area of North James Street by establishing their business at the former Luigi’s Pizza, 417-421 N. James St., and wanted to replace their current sign, covered by trees, with a more modern electric sign that is actually smaller than the current one. Before the business was Luigi’s, it was the former Roman Pastry and before that, a gas station.
During the public comment portion, John Pasqualetti, a member of GP Rome Properties, stated that much time had been spent renovating the inside of the building, and owners will be working on the exterior in the spring. He is also co-owner of Big Jay’s.
“The Jaegers have spent a lot of money on the inside of the building, and this will be a nice statement, dressing up the property, so I think this is a positive improvement” for the business district on North James Street, Pasqualetti said.
Zoning Board member Raymond Tucker said the issue is not the size of the sign, it’s that it’s an electronic sign, which are “generally wanted on the boulevards” in the city’s commercial districts.
“If you look at East and West Dominick streets, and James Street, they are considered ‘Main Street’ sections, so it’s more people than car-oriented,” said Tucker. “That was the intention of those areas, so that’s why electronic signs generally aren’t allowed in that zone. Why should we let you have an electronic sign when that doesn’t really fall into what the plan was for those areas?”
The Jaegers said, “it’s a way for us to give back to the community — to improve the area.” They said they planned to close their business around 8 p.m. and that would be when they’d be willing to turn off the sign.
Zoning board member Michele Reid asked If the Jaegers would instead consider a lighted sign that is still very visible, referring to DiSalvo’s Catering and Restaurant located at 413 N. James St.
We’re “just talking about aesthetics where you could do a lit up sign that really makes a statement and shows, and it still stays within the ‘Main Street’ class,” Reid said.
Zoning Board Chairman John Sorbello said he understood the Jaegers wanted the sign for marketing reasons, but felt the “Main Street” standards were put in place in that zone for a reason.
Following questions and discussion, the board unanimously approved a negative declaration of the project’s Site Environmental Quality Review.
Tucker then made a motion to make a condition on the area variance application to include that the sign must go off every day by 10 p.m., and won’t turn back on until 8 a.m. Board members unanimously approved the request as amended.
As for approving the overall area variance, board member Jon Maggiolino said he was voting against it because he said approval would “set a precedence” for the Main Street neighborhood. Reid said she appreciates the “enthusiasm” of the new business owners and what they’re doing for the community, and hopes “neighbors will do the same thing and it will force them to raise the bar” on their buildings, and voted in favor of the electronic sign.
Board member James DiCastro, who owns competing DiCastro’s Brick Oven restaurant on Erie Boulevard West, said he felt the electronic sign wasn’t a good fit for the neighborhood, and as a business owner, he wouldn’t install that type of sign because they’re very expensive, but he ultimately voted in favor.
Sorbello said he doesn’t like a digital sign for that neighborhood.
“I love the enthusiasm, but we’re hoping to change things going on” in that district, as far as business development, Sorbello said. “I don’t believe in digital signs downtown, and I don’t want to set a precedence.” The chairman then voted, “No.”
Tucker pointed out that the greenery in the area will still block the sign, but felt the sign overall wouldn’t have an undesirable change on the neighborhood and voted in favor.
Ultimately the area variance for the digital sign passed 3-2.
In other business:
• Two use variance requests for Gregory Froschauer, owner of 6966 S. James St., to expand his business were both approved by a 4-1 vote each. The first variance was to expand the business to include the import and sale of items to include cheeses, pumpkins, rakes and shovels for the purpose of retail sales. Currently the RR zone limits the sale of items to those that are wholly produced on-site.
The second variance was for Froschauer to include the sale of food at his store, to include but not limited to ice cream, hamburgers/hotdogs, and other food. Froschauer holds a state Agriculture and Markets license that allows small scale food production.
Board member Reid said, “I think expanding would be good for your business and it can do much better in the future,” pointing out Froschauer’s struggles during COVID and rebounding after.
However board member Tucker said the “burden of financial hardship was not met,” and voted against both variances.
• An area variance request made by Rosa Sariento, of 118 Turin St., to construct an addition to the rear portion of the existing house resulting in an encroachment into the required interior side yard setback was unanimously approved. According to city code, the minimum interior side setback-detached is 8 feet.
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