Twelve Tribes renews plan

Will go before city planners again Aug. 17

Oneonta Daily Star (NY)/August 4, 2005
By Jake Palmateer

Oneonta -- A communal religious organization looking to open a restaurant on Main Street will bring its proposal to the city planning commission for the third time this year.

Members of the Twelve Tribes said Wednesday they are on the agenda for an Aug. 17 Planning Commission meeting. The group had its site plan tabled at an April meeting of the Planning Commission. A June vote by the commission spurned the proposal.

City Clerk James Koury confirmed that the group is scheduled to attend the 7 p.m. meeting in Common Council chambers at City Hall.

Twelve Tribes members Ken and Karen Hart plan to purchase 175-177 Main St. and turn the first two floors into a Common Ground Cafe restaurant and bakery. The three-story building, owned by Wilber and Clark Enterprises, is the home of the Body and Soul Lifestyles Center. It was purchased in 1996 for $90,400 and is assessed at $151,000.

Roderick Frandino, Twelve Tribes member and drafter of the site plan, said the Harts are looking for a revote on the proposal because of the absence of Commissioner Jean Ostrowski at the commission's June 15 meeting.

At that meeting, Chairman Frank Gallucci and Commissioners Rob Robinson and Karl Seeley voted in favor of the project. George Demchak and Ellen Falduto voted against it. David Zummo abstained.

But because the proposal needed a true majority of four of the seven seats on the board, the proposal was denied.

Robinson said the votes still might not fall in favor of the Twelve Tribes at the August meeting. He said the vote could end up three in favor, three opposed and one abstention, which would leave the proposal unapproved.

"I think this will end up in the court system," Robinson said.

Frandino said the site plan for a Common Ground Cafe at 175-177 Main St. has not changed since they attempted to get it passed in June. He also said the group has tried to answer questions on its religious beliefs.

"We think we said all we could last time," Frandino said. "We're going to just see what the vote is (this time)."

The Twelve Tribes, which practices what it calls a blend of Jewish and Christian beliefs, operates Common Ground Cafes in seven cities in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

Although criticized by some as a controlling cult that violates child labor laws, the group's members say they are practicing their own style of communal living, which includes the operation of several businesses.

Seeley, who voted in favor of the plan, said that if faced with the same proposal Aug. 17, he will vote in favor of it again.

Robinson said he remains in favor of allowing the group to open their business.

"My position has been straightforward from the beginning," Robinson said. "As far as I'm concerned, the code clearly allows such an opportunity at that location."

Gallucci would not give an indication on where he stands on the plan.

"I am not going to discuss a vote in advance," Gallucci said.

Gallucci did say he expects all commissioners to be in attendance Aug. 17.

Ostrowski, Gallucci said, couldn't attend the June meeting because of "family considerations."

Zummo, who owns the Latte Lounge on Main Street, said that if faced with another vote on the proposal, he would again abstain and cite a conflict of interest.

"I think that's the fairest thing to do," Zummo said.

He said he still remains opposed to the opening of an eatery at 175-177 Main St.

"I want to see retail downtown," Zummo said.

Ostrowksi, Demchak and Falduto did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

Since the commission's June vote, Main Street has lost a cafe. Gina's Cafe and Pastry Shop at 112 Main St. moved to the Hannaford Plaza on Southside earlier this summer.

One argument put forth by opponents of the Twelve Tribes' plan was that Main Street had too many cafes.

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