Last week, Prato Bakery was the subject of some construction and zoning complaints from a nearby neighbor which led to a temporary removal of their tables and chairs. Obviously, this action affects their business and it created a lot of concern amongst the local community, even spurring a petition to Mayor Fulop.
Prato has quickly become a neighborhood favorite, serving up delicious foccacia, sandwiches, and cantucci, just to name a few, all made fresh and on-site. They are a small business putting out great products and to see them face a lot of bureacracy and red tape, as well as suffer perhaps unnecessary, expensive, and overly restrictive punishments, is not something anyone wants to see. However, there do seem to be some grounds for the complaint, but how much is yet to be determined.
It seems the major problem stems from concern over building in the back yard which created a ripple effect of issues:
First issue - Prato rents their space, and as part of a settlement over property lines in the past, the landlord of the space agreed that no restaurants would be built without express permission from the neighboring property. I am not sure if Prato knew that or if only the landlord did.
Second issue - The space Prato is in isn't actually zoned to be a full restaurant space and the amount of seating violates that.
Third issue - Those neighbors never agreed to the build-out of Prato and recently, when Prato started to build in the backyard, they were told by the neighbors that it wasn't allowed, but continued work anyway (within what are allowed construction hours if construction is permitted), prompting those neighbors to file a complaint.
When the complaint was filed, Prato was forced to stop work and their tables and chairs were temporarily removed under the zoning requirements. From what I gather, the complaints and zoning are being examined and there will need to be legal involvement.
For my part, I'm confused by the zoning/number of seats issue. Prato really isn't a "sit-down" restaurant - there's not all that much seating, nothing that would be in the way, and there's no wait staff; I'd say it's more of a casual take-out with some seats to sip a coffee and it seems pretty clear that if the work in the backyard hadn't gone on, it wouldn't have become an issue.
No matter what, it's unlikely Prato is in danger of closing as people worried, but this dispute may go on for some time which can be dangerous and a major burden for a lot of small businesses. Hopefully, a compromise can be reached that will satisfy all parties; small businesses and residents both have to be supported and protected, but not at the cost of each other.
UPDATE: as of this morning, the tables and chairs were removed.