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Neighbors' concerns about expansion set back Deluca's plans

Posted by Sara Brown  October 15, 2010 11:12 AM

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Deluca's, a Charles Street fixture, has an uncertain future after a July fire closed the store.

Plans to reopen Deluca’s Market, a 105-year-old Charles Street fixture ravaged by an electrical fire in July, have reached a stalemate as the owner and the market’s neighbors disagree about plans to expand the market.

"We’re doing our best to move [the reopening along)]" said owner Virgil Aiello, with the market’s fate contingent on "cooperation from three of our closest neighbors."

Aiello, who owns the market and the apartments above it, said he hopes to add a 600-square-foot addition to the space, providing needed light and air to the back of the store. Plans for a new produce department and a new meat and cheese area are also in the works.

To accommodate the addition, one of the two apartments above the market would be converted to market use, and the roof of the building would be raised by between 8 and 10 feet.

However, the move to renovate and reopen the market is "two steps forward and three steps back," Aiello said, as neighbors have contested the planned addition.

Russell Gaudreau, chairman of a Beacon Hill zoning and licensing subcommittee focused on Deluca's, said the proposed changes are not going over well with some in the community.

"Neighbors are concerned about losing residential space," Gaudreau said, adding that Beacon Hill residents are generally uncomfortable with businesses encroaching on residential areas.

Exceptions would be made for an enhancement to neighborhood life, Gaudreau added.

The second issue is the proposed addition to the flat roof of the Deluca's building, a necessary addition to keep one apartment above the market.

In a "dense area with lots of buildings," Gaudreau said, "the extra height reduces light and also blocks views."

Plans for the building include "two things that not only the immediate neighbors find objectionable, but run contrary to the concerns of the entire neighborhood," Gaudreau said.

Aiello said that he took down a mock-up of the proposed expansion at the request of the neighbors.

Although the Civic Association committee isn’t a legal body, its opposition would be on record when Aiello takes his proposal to the city.

Gaudreau said he has held a private meeting with Aiello, immediate neighbors, and other community members to try to foster discussion. However, there was unanimous opposition, Gaudreau said, with nothing for him to bring back to the committee.

Now, Gaudreau said, Aiello has to make the next move.

One thing upon which both sides agree: the value of the market to Beacon Hill.

"That’s what makes makes this such a sensitive issue," Gaudreau said. "It’s very important to the neighborhood and the quality of live in the neighborhood."

"That’s why I think we’re all struggling to find common ground," he said.

For Aiello, who is planning to start "100 percent fresh" with the new store, the next steps, such as ordering fixtures, are on hold while the expansion is sorted out.

In the meantime, "I hear from a lot of customers," Aiello said. In fact, he has invited some customers to walk around the now-empty store to give their ideas about how the new market should be arranged.

A sign outside the Charles Street storefront, which features a painted scene of Roman ruins and a quote by poet Robert Lowell, invites customers to visit the market's Newbury Street location, and advertises free shipping to Beacon Hill customers.

Another sign informs passers-by about the fire and plans for a new Deluca's.

"Not to be intimidated by such things, Deluca's is planning its rebirth," the sign reads. It ends: "Thank you for your support all these many years. We hope to be serving you again very soon."

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