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Residents Blame Neighborhood Traffic Issue on La Bottega

Popular Panini Shop Just Wants to Be a Good Neighbor

Residents living within blocks of the popular Nassau Boulevard eatery, La Bottega, and its sister restaurant, Caffe Barocco, are fed up with the traffic and parking problems they claim the restaurants are causing in their neighborhood.

Joyce Hubby, who grew up in town and has lived on Euston Road for years, is tired of it. “It’s become really hard to even live on the block. We have no parking. We’re dealing with people with attitudes. They park in your driveway, make U-turns. There are plenty of young children in the neighborhood. My neighbors are worried about their safety,” she said.

Hubby, who had a sign in front of her home that prohibited parking during certain hours of the day, said she had to replace it with a “No Parking” sign.

Susan Wilder, a clinical psychologist with offices directly across the street from the popular panini shop, said that the store was “desolate” for years before La Bottega moved in.

“It has brought a light and vibrancy to the area. I have rarely met anyone more generous, flexible and supportive,” Wilder said.

Wilder was doubtful the business would survive in the location; it was rare any actually did. “But in 30 days, people were standing in line for paninis,” she said.

Owners Giuseppe and Marisa Ruta came to the United States from Italy in 1993 to make their dream of creating a store where customers could shop for specialty items and enjoy a “cherished Italian food” – the panini – a reality.

La Bottega, which means “the store” in Italian, opened in March 2003. In February 2008, La Bottega expanded, opening a sister restaurant, Caffe Barocco, next door. In November 2008, Caffe Barocco was officially open for business.

“Six-and-a-half years ago the place was empty. When I first opened Caffe Barocco, it created a buzz, a good buzz. We’ve invested our life, everything we’ve had, into that place,” Giuseppe said. “We’re trying to fix any problems. Just let us go back to business. It’s hard as it is.”

Giuseppe said he even offered valet parking and put up signs asking patrons to be courteous to their neighbors.

The Rutas went before the Town of Hempstead’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Sept. 16 to waive off-street parking requirements in order to maintain the existing restaurants.

According to Giuseppe’s lawyer, when the Nassau Boulevard retail “strip mall” was built back in 1949, parking was never a requirement.

The Garden City South locations, 143 and 147 Nassau Boulevard, are situated between a bar, Patty & Johnny’s, to its right and another restaurant, Gonzo’s Mexican Grill, to its left.

Howard Lutz, a traffic engineer with Eschbacher Engineering in Hauppague, conducted a parking survey in the immediate vicinity of 7th Street, Euston Road and Nassau Boulevard Friday and Saturday, Aug. 28-29 and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 11-12, all between the hours of 6-10 p.m. in order to determine the “existing parking demand.”

Lutz observed that there was not a significant amount of people parking in the area of 7th Street (east side) up to Kilburn Road and Nassau Boulevard up to Ardsley Boulevard, that two vehicles were seen parked in the nearby church parking lot during the four-hour span and that there were seven spaces on the street within one to two blocks on either Euston Road, 7th Street or Nassau Boulevard.

“It’s not going to get any worse than what’s going on there today,” Lutz said. “There are multiple tenants in the building so it’s hard to contribute the traffic to Caffe Barocco and La Bottega.”

Lutz suggested the Rutas have their employees, a maximum of 31 at any given time with a maximum vehicle count of eight generated by such employees, park in the nearby church parking lot and have the town install “alternate side of the street” parking signs on 7th Street. Currently, people can park on both sides of the street.

Lutz said that the bar and Mexican restaurant were “equally as busy” those Friday and Saturday nights.

“It is my professional opinion that this establishment would not create traffic and an undue parking demand,” Lutz concluded.

Local civic groups contacted Nassau County’s Fifth Precinct this past summer. A sergeant, who spoke on behalf of frustrated neighbors, reported that between the end of June and beginning of July 68 parking tickets were issued on 7th Street and Euston Road alone.

“Nobody wants to put anyone out of business obviously but the residents are getting a burden,” Sergeant Edward Grimm said.

The Rutas’ attorney shot back: “So it’s possible some of these illegal parkers had nothing to do with La Bottega and Caffe Barocco?”

The sergeant replied: “It is possible, yes.”

Haroon Khan, who lives on 7th Street, said that granting La Bottega an off-street parking waiver directly affects him and his neighbors. “It affects us in every sort of way in terms of traffic,” he said. “It takes five minutes just to get out of my driveway … No matter how much you try to stop people from parking illegally, people are lazy…”

Joseph Libreri, who lives on the corner of Euston Road South and 7th Street, said the issue is not about how great Giuseppe and Marisa are as people. “There’s not enough ample parking,” he said.

Libreri, who moved here in 2000, said his child was nearly run over, a tree fell in front of his home because a car hit it, his wife even got into a verbal altercation which resulted in police being called to the scene. “I moved to Long Island for quality of life. There is no quality of life,” he said. “My driveway physically gets blocked by cars and trucks. When does it stop? When do the residents get the help? It’s going to be too late, when someone gets hurt.”

Giuseppe admits he’s frustrated. “I get blamed for people throwing beer bottles on their lawn, for urinating on their lawn, for rats living in their backyards. Are you kidding me?” Giuseppe said, adding that when residents complained that the garbage pickup was too early, he arranged for a later pickup time and has even hired a professional exterminating company to place rodent traps in the area.

Giuseppe said the Nassau Boulevard location is where it all began. “This is where we started. This is where everything happened,” he said. (La Bottega restaurants are popping up all over Long Island, including the most recent opening in the Roosevelt Field Mall.)

BZA Chair Robert O’Brien said the board will take notice of prior decisions to grant parking waivers along Nassau Boulevard but emphasized that how they pertained to this case would be at the discretion of the BZA.

“On one side you have a successful business. The other side, there’s success at a cost,” O’Brien said. The case was put on the BZA’s decision calendar. Both parties will be notified by mail of the board’s decision.