VILLAGE OF MANLIUS — On Oct. 10, the Village of Manlius Board of Trustees considered a newly submitted zone change application for the former fire station site off Stickley Drive.
The applicant, Hospitality Restaurant Group, is requesting that the property be zoned Commercial 1 (C1) to accommodate its new Taco Bell Cantina proposal.
For many years, the old fire station property was owned by the village and zoned as municipal.
After it was sold a few years ago to David and Louis Muraco of Empire Management of CNY, Inc., no formal process was carried out to change its zoning designation. Therefore, the village board must now take legal action to establish a zone for the now-private property. The options for the parcel are C1 or Commercial (C).
As the village law currently stands, C does not allow drive-through service at restaurants. In a C1 zone, drive-throughs are permitted upon the issuance of a special use permit.
In December 2022, Hospitality Restaurant Group submitted an initial zone change application that called for the demolition of the existing fire station and the construction of a typical-style drive-through Taco Bell.
Upon receiving the application, the village board sent it to the Village of Manlius Planning Board and Onondaga County for review. Both recommended that the village board deny the request for a C1 zoning designation.
In response to feedback from the village, county, and local individuals, the applicant made significant changes to its original proposal. The new zone change application still calls for C1 zoning but proposes upgrading the interior and exterior of the existing firehouse rather than tearing it down.
The new concept includes a Taco Bell Cantina restaurant on the first floor that would incorporate both a drive-through and sit-down dining, which would make up a larger share of the business.
According to the developer, the layout would keep the drive-through queue in the rear of the building, almost invisible to passersby on Fayette Street.
The Taco Bell Cantina concept offers a custom menu, shareable appetizers, and alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine, sangria, and alcoholic Freezes.
The plan calls for significant green space in the front of the property, an outdoor seating area, and modern-looking garage doors that could be raised in nice weather.
The restaurant would be on one side of the ground floor, while the other side would have space for live entertainment or private gatherings. The upstairs is suitable for multiple uses.
The applicant was represented at the Oct. 10 meeting by Matt Napierala, P.E., of Napierala Consulting, and Mike McCracken, director of asset development with Hospitality Restaurant Group.
Napierala and McCracken requested that the village board send the new application to the planning board for its recommendation.
Village Attorney Brad Hunt explained that now that the application has been formally submitted to the village board, sending it to the planning board would be the next step in the process.
“The planning board, under our code, is required to issue a report before this board holds a public hearing,” Hunt said. “We would also need to get the county planning board comments back before this board takes a vote.”
Trustee Hank Chapman pointed out that the situation is complicated because there are two aspects for the village to consider at once — the most appropriate zone for the property and an application proposing a specific use for the property.
“We have to zone that parcel, whether there’s an application or not, but there’s also an application going on at the same time,” he said. “There’s kind of two different things going on.”
Chapman stated that, in his view, the county’s comments on the initial application focused predominantly on the project proposal and the specifics of the site plan, while the planning board narrowed in on the zoning.
Additionally, Chapman remarked that because the applicant is currently seeking the same zone change for the same parcel as before, he does not envision the planning board changing its recommendation.
“This is [certainly] a much more appealing looking project, but the planning [board’s] recommendation to us was that C is a more appropriate zone than C1,” Chapman said. “That’s independent of what the proposal looks like. So, I don’t see the point in sending it back to the planning board. . . . Your application is the same as far as how it’s going to be recommended to be zoned.”
Trustee Janice Abdo-Rott similarly stated that she was unsure why a different proposal would change how the property should be zoned and therefore the planning board’s recommendation.
“It’s really talking about the zoning, not what would go there,” she said.
McCracken emphasized that the new proposal is “a good deal different” than the original.
He explained that the existing two-floor building would have multiple uses and could accommodate multiple tenants, just like the C1-zoned Manlius Mart Plaza that abuts the property to the south.
“You’re not looking at a single tenant building any longer,” he said. “It’s a different use, and I think it needs a different consideration. I can understand if it was just a single stand-alone restaurant, but this is going to have multiple uses. We are looking into whether the upstairs could be a teen center for the residents of the village. There is a lot more here than there was in the first proposal . . . . It’s not a plaza, but it is a multi-tenanted building.”
Hunt, Mayor Paul Whorrall, and Trustee Tom Pilewski agreed that because the current application proposes a new project, the planning board should have a chance to review it.
Hunt also informed the board that the village code says that any proposed amendment to the zoning code or map, whether initiated by the village board or by petition, shall be referred to the planning board.
The attorney said that based on his reading of the code, it is his opinion that the village board must refer Hospitality Restaurant Group’s new application to the planning board.
“This zone change application involves a specific proposal for how they are going to use this building and use the site, and it is a new application,” Hunt said. “I certainly understand the perspective that it is still seeking the same zone change for the parcel. The planning board might very well see it that way and have the same conclusion that they had before, but they might also look at it and say, ‘No, this is a different proposal. Even though they are seeking the same zone change, it’s for a different use of the site,’ and that can be taken into consideration.”
Hunt also informed the board that the new application had already been referred to the county prior to the meeting.
Napierala expressed his view that the discussions surrounding the initial application were less about the zoning and more about planning considerations and the idea of tearing down the fire station to build a prototypical drive-through Taco Bell.
He also pointed out that the planning board’s vote was not unanimous.
McCracken also commented that the county’s comments specifically advocated for the reuse of the existing building.
Following the discussion, the board unanimously voted to send the new application to both the planning board and the county for their recommendations.
Hunt advised the board that even though the application had already been sent to the county prior to the vote, it would be appropriate to formalize that referral by including it in the motion.
Manlius Village Board meetings begin at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month in the Manlius Village Centre Board Room, 1 Arkie Albanese Avenue, Manlius.