© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM - Grateful that the prominent commercial space won't remain vacant, the Board of Selectmen last week granted a beer and wine license to a local businessman opening an affiliate of the Pizzeria Uno brand.

During a regular meeting in Town Hall last Tuesday night, the Selectmen voted unanimously to issue the partial liquor license, though because representatives from Uno Fresco still need a special permit for outdoor seating, they will likely have to come back before the town officials.

According to Christopher Wescott, who will manage the new eatery, the business plans to occupy the storefront at Redstone Plaza where Baja Fresh was previously situated. He asked that the license be granted, regardless of whether he needs to reappear before the board, so that construction can begin at the space.

A building permit has already been issued for that work, and Wescott hopes the business will open its doors sometime in May or June.

Unlike a traditional Pizzeria Uno restaurant, where Chicago-style deep dish pizza is prominently featured on the menu, Uno Fresco will appeal more to a lunch and light dinner crowd.

"It's a fast casual concept featuring all fresh products," explained Wescott, listing off pizza, salads, panini-style sandwiches, and other "light fare" entrees as the types of items served. "Our flagship location is branded as Uno Due Go on Summer Street in Boston, [and] we have a few other variations across the country."

Rumors about Pizzeria Uno and other major chain restaurants' interest in Stoneham — particularly at the shopping plaza near the Reading line — have been circulating around town for some time, but to the frustration of town officials and citizens alike, a number of storefronts at the commercial property have remained empty for years.

"We appreciate you taking up some of the space at Redstone. That's been vacant for quite some time," said Selectmen Chair Robert Sweeney.

Because the town has already issued all of its full liquor licenses, the Selectmen last year began exploring other ways to woo potential tenants into town, including the offering of beer and wine licenses and reducing the minimum 50 seat requirement needed to submit an application to serve alcohol.

Recently at Town Meeting, the assembly voted to petition the Statehouse for permission to issue additional full alcoholic beverage licenses, and local officials are still waiting to see that special legislation is passed.

During the recent meeting, in response to an inquiry to Selectman Frank Vallarelli, Wescott emphasized that he has no interest in a full license, as he believes the type of clientele attracted to the eatery will be mostly interested in beer and wine.

The petitioner also explained that he still requires a special permit from the Planning Board in order to open up a proposed outdoor patio seating area.

Sweeney reminded the applicant that he would have to come back before the Selectmen, once that permit was granted, but Wescott sought out preliminary approval, so that construction could begin at the space with the knowledge that there are no major objections to beer and wine being served.

"Normally, you'd be in front of us after you complete the process with all the other boards," Sweeney explained. "So even if you get the okay from us tonight, you're going to have to come back. We'll expedite that as fast as we can for you."

Just a single person spoke during the public hearing on the petition. Sunset Road resident Jim Sullivan voiced no objection to partial alcohol service, but did ask that Uno Fresco officials remain cognizant of the town's aims to keep the Redstone Plaza space viable.

"I would ask that this franchise make some strides to make sure their site is attractive," said Sullivan.

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