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Smooth sailing for Popeyes as panel OK’s variance

Nicole A. Hawley
Staff writer
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Posted 1/6/23

The city Zoning Board of Appeals approved an appeal for an area variance on the window design for the new Popeyes fast food chain that will occupy the former OTB and Legends Bar.

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Smooth sailing for Popeyes as panel OK’s variance

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ROME — The city Zoning Board of Appeals approved an appeal for an area variance on the window design for the new Popeyes fast food chain that will occupy the former OTB and Legends Bar at 526 Erie Blvd. W. during its regular monthly meeting Wednesday.

A resident living behind the property spoke in opposition of placing the fast food chain at the location, having concerns about privacy and other issues. And a representative of Rome Historical Society wanted to ensure that the property owner and city officials take due diligence to make sure there is nothing of historic value on the property before construction of the restaurant begins.

Owner Brett Steenburgh appeared for an area variance on the fenestration, or window design, of the new Popeyes. According to city codes, the ground floor on the front facade must maintain 50% transparency, measured between 2-14 feet in height from grade; the upper floors of the front facade must maintain a transparency of 25% of the wall area of the story; and mirrored and privacy tinted windows do not count toward the transparency percentage.

Steenburgh said after submitting site plans for Popeyes, the city Planning Board recommended he change the layout design for the restaurant. Planning worked with the applicant to mirror the original design, but “flip it.”

According to the updated design, “the side facing Erie Boulevard is at 40% (fenestration), instead of the required 50%,” Steenburgh said. “We designed a patio area in front of the building for outdoor dining and we figured that would be something to break up the wall and make it more appeasing to the eye. We felt in trying to meet the code, this is the best we could offer — 40% is not a huge variance for the requirement, and a lot of businesses in the area already don’t meet the requirement.”

“We were pushed in this direction for the site plan design,” he added.

During the public speaking portion of the meeting, RHS Board of Trustees member Bobbie O’Brien said she wanted to remind the board that 526 Erie Blvd. W. is a “sensitive area” and is an important site due to its contribution to American history.

“This location is a part of the historic district and considered an important site due to its role in American history,” said O’Brien. “The significant history is just below the surface and should not be further disturbed without ensuring all possible care is taken. Any alteration to the existing structure, the adjoining parking lot, and any other part of the footprint should be dealt with accordingly especially since more history may well remain just below the surface.”

She said, “Please know that any new entity coming into our community is always welcome. But it is our responsibility to provide the background and history of those historic areas within the city,” adding that the State Historic Preservation Office should be notified about the project.

Because the Zoning Board was to only consider the fenestration on the building, O’Brien was requested to speak before the Planning Board about her concerns.

David L. Rienzo Jr., owner of 503 Calvert St., said the new Popeye’s would be located “in his back yard,” and was already annoyed by the garbage gathered behind his residence, as well as the homeless who have taken shelter there.

Rienzo said he was also concerned about the increased traffic the fast food restaurant would create on an already busy business district along the boulevard.

As for the fenestration of the building, “My privacy is now taken away from me because these folks want to put windows and a bunch of lights” around their building, “with more people in my backyard who can see over my fence. And who wants a speaker outside their home window? There are other locations in the city built for fast food restaurants,” he said.

While Zoning Board members said they appreciated Rienzo’s concerns, he was directed to also speak before the Planning Board to address his issues.

Zoning Board member James DiCastro said as per the question about the restaurant’s PA (Public Announcement) system, there are sound performance standards that regulate decibel levels according to city codes. And Steenburgh said according to the site design, there would be a 6-foot solid stockade fence and that noise and light would be buffered with landscaping. Steenburgh said he also notified SHPO about his project a few weeks ago and that he has consulted with an archaeologist to get the necessary studies done to ensure there is no historical impact on the property.

While proper buffering and screening at the rear of the property was recommended to be a priority for the owner, the Zoning Board unanimously approved the area variance request for the fenestration.

In other business:

• A request for a use variance by Billy Rocker of Rocker’s Automotive Rescue, Inc., owner of 6947 S. James St., 6943 S. James St. and Bones Avenue, to use the existing building for a minor vehicle repair garage and a towing and recovery business (towing and collision services is listed in the Major Vehicle Repair definition). The applicant is subject to receiving a state Motor Vehicle Repair license from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. A use variance would be necessary because a Vehicle Repair-Major and Vehicle Repair-Minor are non-permitted uses in the RR Zone district.

Leo Boulerice, of Holland Patent, representing his wife Deborah who co-owns property adjacent to Rocker’s, spoke in opposition to the project, with one of several of his outlined concerns being that the property in question sits on wetlands.

City Chief Codes Enforcement Officer Mark Domenico explained that it was the consensus of the Zoning Board to once again table the variance request because the state Department of Environmental Conservation must first be dispatched to perform wetland delineation on the property. Before making a final decision, board members said the delineation would determine if any DEC permits are needed by the applicant for his proposals on the vehicle holding area and fencing.

• A special use variance for a Vehicle Repair-Minor, considered a special use in a C2 Zone district, requested by Clemente Importing, LLC and Santos Rivera, owner and tenant of 7019 E. Dominick St., to establish a Vehicle Repair-Minor business in the existing area already being used for automotive detailing, was unanimously approved. The special use variance will allow Rivera to complete his state DMV application for a motor vehicle repair garage.

• Two use variance requests by Gregory Froschauer, owner of 6966 S. James St., were tabled. Froschauer is seeking to expand his business to include the sale of ice cream, hamburgers/hotdogs and other foods. He holds a 20C license from state Agriculture and Markets, which allows for small scale food production. The owner also wants to further expand the business by including the import and sale of items such as pumpkins, cheeses, rakes and shovels for retail purposes.

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