Well, we can all breathe a sigh of relief in Pawcatuck. The motorcycle handlebars have been removed from the exterior of the Handlebar Café, and the bar’s name, which had been painted into a small area of a motorcycle mural on an exterior side wall has been covered — with a small sign that reads “Freedom.”
It was the diligent work of the Planning and Zoning Commission that made things right again. But what brought about the need for this vitally important corrective action?
The bar, owned by Elizabeth Mitchell-Cipriano, was selected for a makeover by the producers of the TV show “Bar Rescue.” The crew went to work in April, and the chopper-style handlebars over the doorway and the mural of the motorcycle, which incorporated the name of the bar, were part of the renovations.
As part of the show’s format, the owner isn’t allowed to be part of the makeover, and so Mitchell-Cipriano was nicely told to stay away from her own business during the work. The TV crew apparently doesn’t concern itself with local rules and regs, and no permits were sought for the work. Trouble is, the addition of the handlebars and mural required a permit. The handlebars would have been nixed anyway if permission had been requested since the commission considered them a hazard — can’t we let people decide whether they want to “risk” walking under something hanging over them to get into a bar?
Mitchell-Cipriano pleaded ignorance regarding the need for permits since she wasn’t in on the work. Ignorance is never a defense, yet she felt caught in the middle. The commission pressed the issue and was about to get lawyers involved when the owner capitulated after first considering an appeal.
The ruckus was a mystery to me. That a local establishment had the chance to make some noise about itself on a national stage was pretty cool. Should the owner have sought a permit for the changes? Well ... of course, by all means — a newspaper can’t endorse illegal activity, after all. But why a set of handlebars and a business’ name painted on a wall are problems is beyond me. But what’s done is done.
Perhaps the commission can now turn its attention to the less-than-attractive sight less than a mile away from Handlebar, where a three-story commercial building has been under construction for a decade or so. Anyone who drives Route 1 in Pawcatuck knows of the site — it’s the one that has had construction materials left out with no activity and brush allowed to grow unchecked. More recently, work has started and stopped on another structure at the same site.
Or perhaps the commission can get after the owners of the former Bess Eaton donut shop and its rusted sign that’s really just a rusted pole with a big blank space at the top and weeds down below, gracing the side of Route 1. Or maybe the commissioners can spend some time researching how to get owners of long-vacant property to at least cut the grass and take down anything that has turned to rust or is clearly in need of maintenance or dismantling. And maybe that search will spark at least a challenge to the business strategy of keeping a site vacant to curtail competition, a scenario we’ve dealt with for years at the Pawcatuck Shopping Center. Such nice visions as drivers pass through the village of Pawcatuck.
Years of eyesores are OK, but a set of handlebars and a business name as part of a mural are priority problems?