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January 24, 2013

Size of ale house grows

Proposed restaurant would hold nearly 600 guests

NEWBURYPORT — It would be unusual for a restaurant proposal to go unnoticed when it calls for 591 seats in one of the busiest sections of the city.

Restaurateur Joe Leone appeared at a public hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night seeking a “special permit for non-conformities” so he can convert a structure at 40 Merrimac St. into an eatery and bar, tentatively called the Newburyport Ale House.

The building is at the base of Green Street, and until recently housed Davis Auto Parts. Leone proposes to offer 591 seats in summer (with outdoor deck) and about 350 in the colder months. This was a higher capacity than had formerly been announced.

His proposal was opposed by some and questioned by others, and in the end the ZBA continued the matter until late February.

Leone and his team have also appeared before the Waterfront Trust and the Historical Commission.

Leone currently operates the Black Cow restaurant on the riverfront and the Black Cow in Hamilton. City officials say he bought the building at 40 Merrimac St., but he leases the Black Cow here.

Lawyer Lisa Mead, representing property owner David Murphy, a principal in the Brown’s Wharf building to the rear of Leone, said that the restaurant would be “detrimental to the neighborhood.”

She expressed concerns that refrigerator units and docking facilities at the rear of the structure would “add to the building’s footprint” and generate noise and traffic.

Mead added that a venue of this size would call for 147 parking spaces, which she suggested would mean that many visitors to the waterfront wouldn’t have space to put their cars.

The Ale House would be one of the largest restaurants in the city; the largest existing restaurant, Michael’s Harborside, offers about 440 seats in summer.

Leone, who spoke sparingly at the hearing, indicated that he and Murphy had been unable to come to agreement on where cars could be parked, and thus had not been in communication.

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