An application to move a restaurant 375 feet has sparked a prolonged battle between two former business partners — one a respected former state senator, the other a beloved local business owner.
Aldo Cascio and Henry McNamara both have hired planning experts to testify before the Wyckoff Planning Board, and both men say their positions are in the best interest of the township.
McNamara, the owner of the two buildings where the businesses currently operate, has hired an attorney and planner to block the application, asserting that should Cascio's application be granted, parking in the Central Business Triangle would be impacted to the detriment of the township.
In an interview with McNamara, the former New Jersey state senator said that he is concerned primarily about preventing the parking problems he says plague nearby municipalities.
"It's a question of the future of Wyckoff and parking," McNamara said. "Ridgewood made the same mistake years ago and has a lot of business vacancies now because of high volume."
But Cascio contends that McNamara's reasons for trying to block the move are purely personal.
"I've been in town for 30 years, I should have the right to move if the town approves it. The only reason he's complaining is because I'm leaving his spot," according to Cascio. "I think it's a cheap shot, really."
"There will be enough parking," Cascio said.
After 29 years of working together in various capacities, Cascio simply said he was no longer comfortable with McNamara as his landlord.
Until 2010 McNamara had been an investor at The Brick House, a swank restaurant on Godwin Avenue where Cascio is general manager and a part owner — McNamara said he sold his stake in the business because of difference in philosophy with Cascio.
According to public records, Henry McNamara and his son Patrick McNamara had also been partners with Cascio at Pane e Vino until 2004.
"I want to do business in Wyckoff," Cascio said. "I don't want to do anything to upset anyone who lives in this town, but this guy thinks he can say or do anything he wants."
According to McNamara, who also served as a county freeholder from 1984 to 1986, and as mayor of Wyckoff in 1979, the rift between the two men came out of left field when in late December when Cascio told McNamara he'd be moving out from the Wyckoff Avenue properties after nearly three decades.
"I've dealt with Aldo on his word, so I'm very disappointed," McNamara said.
Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox submitted a letter of opinion in September regarding Cascio's application to the Wyckoff Planning Board.
In that letter, (see attached PDF), Fox describes a "major concern" over parking at the proposed restaurant on the corner of Wyckoff and Highland avenues.
"This is a very aggressive application for this location," Fox wrote. "If allowed with the variances requested, it may cause traffic safety and police department issues in this business area of the community."
Township ordinance mandates one parking space for every three seats in a restaurant such as the one Cascio has proposed. The new Aldo's is slated to seat 170 patrons and thus would require 57 parking spaces.
The restaurant plans to provide 19 parking spaces on site, according to Cascio's planner. There is currently no on-site parking at either Aldo's or Pane e Vino.
"A deficiency of 38 spaces is significant," Fox wrote. "Although there is street parking in the immediate area, there are not even 38 spaces on the street within a reasonable distance from the restaurant."
Cascio said in an interview that if the opportunity presented itself, he would consider buying a nearby property for use as a parking lot to help address the concern.
Testimony in January by Cascio's planner argued that consolidating and moving the businesses would lessen the burden on local parking conditions.
"Our proposal ... is actually less intense than what currently exists," said Cascio's planner, Brigette Bogart.
She told planning board members on Jan. 11 that 109 on-street parking spots would be available on the east side of Wyckoff Avenue and the north side of Franklin Avenue within 300 feet from the proposed site, which she said is the typical distance someone would be willing to walk to a restaurant.
McNamara's planner, Charles McGroaty, testifying on Feb. 8, argued that issues — including parking limitation signs, and the application's conflict with the township's master plan — went unaddressed in Bogert's testimony.
"The parking variance associated with the present application represents exactly the type of problem Wyckoff has worked hard to resolve," wrote McGroaty in his report. "By combining the restaurant with a wine bar and expanding into the basement of the vacant building ... the applicant creates a situation where two-thirds of his parking requirement cannot be satisfied."
"Such arrangements pales [sic] against the fair and sensible parking standards to protect the viability of the Township's Business District and the public good as a whole," concludes McGroaty's report.
Cascio's attorney, Bruce Whitaker, grilled McGroaty on his report's multiple citations of the letter submitted by Fox.
Whitaker suggested that because Fox sent the letter approximately 60 days before the first hearing its relevance is questionable.
"If a member of the public wrote a letter and it was in the file that you read you ... could quote from that letter also in your report?" Whitaker asked.
"The [planning] board would weigh the significance ... of my citing the police chief's report versus the resident's [letter]," McGroaty responded.
While the planning board is left to decide the fate of Cascio's application, McNamara, 77, said he has selected tenants for both of the Franklin Avenue locations, and leases are under attorney review for both properties.
McNamara declined to name either of the businesses, but said that he and the owner of an existing restaurant currently operating "about 5 or 6 miles" from the property would likely have a deal inked for 393 Franklin Avenue by the end of February.
The prospect of having two new restaurants totaling almost 350 seats — in addition to other nearby eateries such as 3 Chicas, the now-defunct Brownstone Inn and Luciano's — just about a block from each other worries McNamara.
"I think that the board ignores the fact that [393 Franklin Ave.] is a 168-seat restaurant," McNamara said Friday.
McNamara said that when speaking to potential tenants for the Pane e Vino location he considered Wyckoff's interests.
"I've been trying very hard to get a less intensive use into that space, but it's not going to help if [the planning board] adds another restaurant seating 170 people," McNamara said, referring to Cascio's planned restaurant.
"I almost feel like going back and running for office to get things focused on what has made this town a great town — proper development," McNamara added.
Meanwhile, McNamara is at loggerheads with Cascio over when he will vacate the restaurant and wine bar.
"I was planning to leave the end of February, but due to the delay [caused by McNamara's objection before the planning board] I asked him if I could leave at the end of June," Cascio said, claiming McNamara initially accepted then rescinded his offer several weeks later.
McNamara claims he offered Cascio a lease, but when Cascio declined the lease McNamara told him he would have to be out by Feb. 28. and eviction papers would be served to Cascio if he doesn't comply.
Asked about the prospect of an eviction notice, Cascio stood his ground.
"I'm not leaving at the end of February," Cascio said in an interview. "I'm leaving at the end of June."
The issue is likely to end up in court, both men conceded.
"I don't want that, believe me, I just want to be able to do business like I've done all these years," Cascio said. "Business is for everybody; when the sun comes up, it comes up for everybody."