Several months ago, Prato Bakery, 61 Erie Street, faced some controversy when they were forced to close down the garden they were building and remove some of their indoor seating after being the subject of zoning complaints from a neighbor.
Recently, and most likely in response to the issues they faced, Prato applied for a Restaurant 2 variance which is scheduled to go before the Zoning Board this Thursday. From my understanding (based primarily on what I've read on the Harsimus Cove Association's FB page and some relatively simple Google searches) a Restaurant 2 variance would allow for indoor and outdoor seating, a full kitchen, and the possibility for alcohol to be served on premise with the appropriate liquor license.
What's important to note here is not just that these things would be allowed, but that they would then become permanent and automatic rights for any future owners and lessees of the space. Basically what that means is that even if Prato doesn't want to turn into a bar or even run a full outdoor cafe, any other occupants going forward would have the option to do so and there would be no way to prevent it or apply any conditions later on, which depending on the owner in the future, could be a major drawback to the fairly residential neighborhood. Currently, Prato seems to want to be a good neighbor and I personally think they're certainly a great addition to the neighborhood and worth supporting, but that doesn't mean five years down the road, someone else won't move in and change that.
There's also a secondary issue at play - just the allowance of alcohol on premises means the property immediately holds more value which could lead to high and quick turnover if the landlord decides to capitalize on that value and look for higher-paying tenants - not out of the question with the amount of development in Jersey City. This means there's a chance smaller businesses like Prato that generally benefit the neighborhood might have a harder time staying in the space and larger businesses or people who can afford more (and therefore usually charge more) would move in.
None of this is to say Prato shouldn't be allowed to be zoned out of just the commercial bakery status they currently have or be prevented from expanding their current business, but that what zoning is allowed and what variance they're granted should be carefully considered because it's not just an issue that will affect Prato, but also any business that comes in afterward. It's also part of a bigger question facing just about all of Jersey City - what kinds of businesses do Jersey City residents want in their neighborhoods and how much development and rezoning is beneficial and sustainable?
If you're looking for more information, I highly recommend checking out the Harsimus Cove discussion (please note comments should be restricted to those that live in Harsimus Cove out of respect for the group although you're welcome to leave them here) or attending the zoning board meeting on Thursday.