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Who's minding the store? Or, in this case, the restaurant? Once again, the system has failed.

Kostas Family Restaurant, the popular Greek restaurant on Hertel Avenue, was allowed to build a patio enclosure extending more than 11 feet onto the sidewalk of Hertel Avenue and about 14 feet high. Besides sticking out like a sore thumb, the structure dwarfs neighboring businesses.

Understandably, business owners have been up in arms. The guy who owns the building next door to Kostas at Parkside and Hertel also is upset. Oh, by the way, his name is Anthony M. Masiello, and his day job is mayor of Buffalo. In one of the more ironic twists to this story, the mayor had to hear about construction from one of his tenants.

The problem here - in addition to the extension itself - is that none of the business owners were notified about the structure. Unless it's relative to zoning, business owners are not notified. If someone had requested a variance, then neighboring business owners would have been notified.

"It hinders pedestrian movement. It distorts the look of the entire block," Masiello said. And while the mayor is hardly a disinterested party in this matter, he's entirely correct.

No one is blaming - or should blame - the restaurant owner for wanting to expand his business. In fact, this city should support entrepreneurial spirit. Otherwise, businesses such as the popular Greek restaurant may look elsewhere to grow. But restricting pedestrian traffic along a good chunk of Hertel Avenue is not a good way to do it.

The owner went through all of the proper procedures; it's just that those procedures are part of a flawed process.

The entire issue went through the review procedure - through the Planning Board, which approved the request without much review of the plans; and the Common Council, which reviewed the request and sent it to the Building Code Review Office, which checked for code compliance. Nobody seemed to ask a fairly elemental question: Is this a good idea?

This is a clear case of the system in need of a major overhaul. City officials have begun discussions about changing the city ordinance so that any restaurant planning to build even a semi-permanent sidewalk cafe has to go through a more complete Planning Board review. If neighbors and nearby business owners had been given advance notice of this project, you can bet it would have gotten a more thorough review by city officials.

Neither neighboring business owners nor the public should ever wake up to find a structure jutting out onto a popular thoroughfare, making a stroll down the street more cumbersome and detracting from the ambience of city living.

While this city desperately needs to retain businesses and help them grow, it also needs a process where the public can comment on a project before it intrudes on the character of a neighborhood.

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