Laundromat Proponent, Councillors Clear the Air on Summer-long Situation

September 28, 2011
By

Applicants and councillors involved in a Beachmont Square Laundromat proposal presented their plans and cleared the air in what has become a messy situation in the Square’s business community.

Ralph Toretta – of Toretta’s Bakery – came before the Council Monday night and presented his plan for siting a Laundromat at 684 Winthrop Ave. – a building he owns and that previously held a small Laundromat.

The meat and potatoes of his proposal consisted of re-building the Laundromat and providing parking, if necessary, in a lot his father owns across the street – a lot that is part of the bakery property.

However, the backdrop of the situation had less to do with Toretta’s proposal and more to do with a recently-denied Laundromat proposal from the Pho Family – a proposal that called for siting a Laundromat about 30 yards away from Toretta’s building in an old social club on Winthrop Avenue.

Toretta opposed that plan at a June hearing, and Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta made no bones about the fact that he would support Toretta’s location over anything else.

That scenario eventually played out, with the Council denying Pho’s special permit on the grounds that there wasn’t enough parking. Attorney Joe Cattoggio told the Journal that they have filed an appeal of that decision, and they are awaiting a vote on Toretta’s proposal to see if they need to litigate their case further.

In June, Toretta told the Council that he bought his building with the intent to put a Laundromat back in the building. However, he said he had never been able to get the financing lined up. He also said at that time that since his plans had stalled, he began to talk to the Pho Family about leasing them his building so they could operate a Laundromat.

At some point, those talks disintegrated and the Pho Family pursued a permit at a different building. Apparently, they had the financing and were ready to start.

That entire story from June, though, was in stark contrast to what was said this past Monday at the Council’s public hearing.

Toretta indicated that he had planned on putting the Laundromat in his building all along, but didn’t know that he needed a special permit. He made no mention of the financial situation.

“Last year I was in conversations with vendors and didn’t know I needed a special permit,” he said. “I would have been here last year applying for this permit, but I only assumed [the Laundromat] was grandfathered and didn’t need a special permit.”

He did indicate that he had begun to speak with some prospective tenants about leasing the Laundromat – presumably the Pho Family – but he indicated that after brief talks, they never returned his calls.

One person from Winthrop Avenue did show up on Monday in support of Toretta’s proposal, noting that the area did need a Laundromat within walking distance.

Meanwhile, Ward 1 Councillor Richard Penta went to great lengths to make his point about where he stands on the Laundromat issue.

He said Toretta talked with him about the idea one year ago. He said that Toretta had washer and dryer vendors coming in the building to get the business running.

However, Penta said things went sour when the Pho Family approached Toretta about renting his building. Speaking for Toretta, Penta indicated that Toretta had a lot of responsibilities and felt it would be better to lease the building to the Pho Family – letting them re-open the Laundromat and him collect the rent.

Penta said in the midst of those negotiations, the Pho Family changed.

“While the negotiations are going on between the two, I get a phone call from an attorney saying they wanted to put a Laundromat in the [building across the street],” he said. “Come to find out, it was the same person talking with Mr. Toretta and he hadn’t gotten a return phone call from them. I think and still think it was done very cutely and behind Mr. Toretta’s back.”

The situation about renting the building had been discussed ad naseum all last summer. Nevertheless, that giant nugget of an accusation from Penta had never been shared until this past Monday.

Penta went on to say that any accusations of prejudice corrupting the matter are off base.

“There’s a lot here and I know I did the right thing,” he said. “One is more intrusive than the other…If anybody was put in that situation, I would like them to tell me what they would do. That’s the facts, clear and simple. It’s not that I’m prejudice. I’m not prejudice. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Penta and a handful of others spoke in favor of Toretta’s special permit proposal. Most, however, didn’t voice an opinion. The matter was referred to the Council’s Zoning Committee.

Attorney Cattoggio said they had no official comment on the matter, but indicated that they did carefully note what took place at Monday’s proceedings.

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