During a special meeting last Wednesday, the Johnston Town Council voted 4-0 to accept a conditional cease-and-desist order that established a series of deadlines allowing Classic Express Ice Cream Cafe to remain open.
The business, located near 1208 Atwood Ave., has been the subject of council discussion for months now after a show cause hearing was first scheduled in June. Solicitor Dylan Conley argued earlier this summer that the establishment rested on a state right of way, rendering the town unable to grant licenses for the property.
There were also disputes over the hawker/peddler status of licensee Greg Aloisio, as building official Ben Nascenzi claimed the structure was becoming permanent. Nascenzi additionally alleged that several violations caused Aloisio’s permits to become “null and void.” The show cause hearing was ultimately continued on several occasions, until the council settled on holding a special meeting Aug. 21 to resolve the matter.
Aloisio was not present, but Conley said that he had “essentially acquiesced” that the property was state land, and both sides agreed on the conditional cease-and-desist in lieu of the lengthier, full show cause hearing.
Conley said a series of deadlines were laid out in the order, including one for last Friday, Aug. 23, that required the licensee to apply for proper permits as permanent resident, not a hawker/peddler, by close of business.
Conley confirmed over the phone this Monday that Aloisio met that requirement, so Classic Express Ice Cream Cafe remains open for the time being.
Conley added that all structures must be relocated from their current location to the back of the lot, which Aloisio owns, by this Friday, or the business would be closed. He said the entire application needs to be completed in one month’s time, and Classic Express would not be given the same wiggle room provided to other businesses.
“Sometimes when you apply to planning or zoning, it’s an 80 percent complete application. They’ll say, ‘I want these four other things.’ There’s not going to be an extended grace period on that at all,” Conley said. “If the applications to planning or zoning are deemed incomplete – for example, if they don’t have a Class I survey completed by this Friday [Aug. 23] – they have a few weeks to get that done, if they move all of their structures. But no time longer than that.”
Conley said the cease-and-desist order would provide the town a chance to mitigate the issue within a couple of weeks, or close the establishment. The council – missing only District 2 representative David Santilli Jr. – concurred.
District 5 representative Robert Civetti asked if Classic Express was still open as of the special meeting, to which Conley replied it was. Civetti said Classic Express is essentially operating on a temporary license pending planning approval. The division of the parcel between residential and commercial zones, Conley added, would likely force zoning input as well.
Conley reminded the council that there is no guarantee Classic Express receives a blessing from those two boards, either.
“I imagine they will need zoning relief. They do have some frontage, but it’s very limited, so it may not meet the minimum requirements for a restaurant, so again that would require zoning relief,” he said. “They could still be denied in the end of this by planning or zoning, and they would have to close because they can’t have the permits.”
Civetti also expressed concerns about disposal of graywater on the site, which Conley said would be resolved through the new licensing process. The hawker/peddler license, as Conley explained, set a lower standard because the business is supposed to be mobile. A permanent structure, however, carries a different review process.
“This is a full restaurant application, so they will have grease trap, fire, graywater, all that will be reviewed and permitted as a permanent structure underneath the state building code, so it’s a much higher threshold than what they’re operating under right now,” Conley said.
Conley said that, if Classic Express doesn’t adhere to the deadlines established in the order, Johnston Police are permitted to walk on to the property after close of business and shut it down.
“They will remain open only if they have completely submitted all of their approvals and they moved all of their structures to the rear of the lot where they are legally able to be located,” he said. “If anything other than that is occurring, they cannot be open.”