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Plans for Russian restaurant expansion face concerns from community

The Russian Benevolent Society is trying to expand a restaurant and bar at the corner of Cambridge and Linden Street in Allston. PHOTO BY KEIRA BLESSING/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Russian Benevolent Society is trying to expand a restaurant and bar at the corner of Cambridge and Linden Street in Allston. PHOTO BY KEIRA BLESSING/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

A proposal to expand a Russian bar and restaurant in the neighborhood of Allston has recently raised some community opposition.

The Russian Benevolent Society, a family-owned restaurant with live music, is traditionally used for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and private events.

The restaurant seats 299 people, but the management is looking to expand the capacity to 450 people and add an outdoor space, said the Society’s lawyer, Richard Vetstein.

“The expansion will have no effect on the other tenants in the building because the new space will occupy an underused, old commercial garage,” Vetstein said.

Vetstein said the proposed restaurant expansion has support from the Allston Civic Association, the mayor’s office and the City Council.

Reports from various news sites said the restaurant expansion has faced some community backlash. The Zoning Board of Appeals deferred a hearing on the expansion so that members of the community and the Boston Police Department could contribute to the dialogue regarding the change.

Since there has been support for the expansion from government officials, Vetstein said he is surprised that the restaurant is facing any opposition because it is modestly located behind a large building at the corner of Linden and Cambridge Street.

“The site is really tucked away below street level, and you really would not even know it is there even if you passed by the establishment on the street,” he said.

Adrian Shapiro, treasurer and secretary for the Russian Benevolent Society, said the establishment has not faced any problems or violations in the past with its neighbors.

“We have been here and unbothered for 8 years … now that we are trying to make an expansion, we are facing some opposition,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro said the management does not know who originally began the opposition within the community.

“We have been told that it was a senior citizen in the neighborhood who is getting signatures from people who are just passing by, and who do not even necessarily live in the community,” Shapiro said.

As well as gathering signatures, those in opposition have also allegedly been petitioning against the society by putting brochures into resident and federal mailboxes, Shapiro said.

The restaurant’s management planned to meet today, but the meeting has been postponed until next Tuesday in order to accommodate a meeting with the opposition, Shapiro said.

“We want to meet with the opposition because we are productive in the community, and want to be good neighbors,” Shapiro said. “We also want to see why they are opposing us so hard.”

Shapiro said members of the management have gone around the neighborhood and asked residents if the restaurant’s presence bothers them, yet no one openly voiced any concerns to them.

Margarita Kvacheva, building manager for the Russian Benevolent Society, said the opposition is most likely due to miscommunication within the community.

“The main source of this problem is the fact that people don’t quite understand what we are trying to accomplish,” Kvacheva said. “We are simply just trying to expand the capacity of our restaurant.”

Kvacheva said she thinks the neighbors are opposed because they feel the expansion will attract a younger crowd, and therefore create safety issues in the neighborhood.

“We currently attract an older crowd of young professionals and people in their 30s, and are in no way trying to attract 18-to-20 year-olds,” Kvacheva said.

Kvacheva also said the restaurant is beneficial to the community’s security.

“We help the police when incidents happen on Pratt Street because we have a 24-hour video camera that helps monitor the area,” she said.

Additionally, the Russian Benevolent Society donates some of its funds toward the upkeep of a synagogue on Commonwealth Avenue, Kvacheva said.

Kvacheva said although the restaurant has more support than opposition, the slight community resistance is still holding them back from expansion.





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