Opposition to wine bar is real mystery, while petition expressing it looks faked
Why would someone care so much about a proposed wine bar that they might go to the trouble of forging a petition of residents’ names to block it?
An April 1 arraignment in Cambridge District Court could get at an answer, as Sydney DePaulo has been summonsed on multiple charges of forgery, uttering (trying to pass off a worthless document as genuine) and intimidation of a witness related to a petition he submitted in March against the opening of a wine bar and charcuterie called UpperWest at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., near Harvard Square. Facing a hostile License Commission last year, entrepreneurs Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich backed down and UpperWest didn’t open.
DePaulo, 45, a realtor, assisted-living worker and former personal property analyst for Somerville city government, submitted a 35-name petition against UpperWest, but it’s not clear that any names on it are real aside from his own. Along with a writing style that is strikingly similar and uniquely angular from line to line, despite being presented as written by different people, there are other curiosities on the petition – including three people at three different addresses on Inman Street all misspelling the street’s name the same way.
He created an online version with the same objections to the wine bar, and his is the only name on it.
“As a former assessor, I have seen what bars will do to property values. It is a death mill. It is never a good thing to the surrounding neighborhood and property owners. As a realtor, I have also seen the negative impact on values of properties in the area,” DePaulo told the Cambridge License Commission on March 18, echoing language on the petitions: “I certainly do not want my property value to go down because of new bars with 2 a.m. licenses.”
Oddly, as a real estate expert he would know that Cambridge real estate values are among the highest in the country despite also having many bars – at more than 10 per square mile, the city has 26.3 times as many as the Massachusetts average, according to census data. The median home sale price in Cambridge is at least $575,000 and the typical and average sale price much higher, according to online listing agencies; the median sale price statewide is nearly $300,000 less than in Cambridge.
But as was noted in March by another opponent of UpperWest – Stephen Kapsalis, owner of the 991 Massachusetts Ave. Cellar bar and Cellar Wine & Spirits store and of the space hosting the Garden at the Cellar restaurant – alcohol licenses such as the one wanted for UpperWest were made available in Cambridge specifically to improve property values. “I didn’t realize I lived in a blighted area. This is what these new licenses were for, blighted areas,” Kapsalis said in opposing UpperWest’s liquor license application.
But DePaulo had another problem with a new bar: “As a parent, I lived in Davis Square for many years and I have seen what is happening there. I still see what is happening there. There are bars opening up everywhere and you hear stories of people rolling out of bars being loud, causing trouble. I don’t want to raise my daughter in this neighborhood with that happening here,” he said.
But the address DePaulo gave on his own petition was mid-Fayette Street, more than a half-mile away. Fayette Street doesn’t even connect to Massachusetts Avenue, making the spillover of loud patrons from a 20-seat wine bar and charcuterie who would have to walk an estimated 12 minutes to randomly arrive there (or drive an estimated four) even less likely.
So why go to the trouble of a petition, forged or otherwise?
When reached for comment Thursday, DePaulo politely declined to answer. “No comment,” he said. “I really can’t say anything right now.”
Efforts were also made to reach Kapsalis to see if he had any insight, but his manager at The Cellar, Marilyn Carter, also declined to comment. “We got your message yesterday,” Carter said Thursday. “We’re talking to our lawyer first.”
A message left with Kapsalis’ attorney, Walter Sullivan of Preti Flaherty in Boston, wasn’t returned.
Police spokesman Jeremy Warnick had few details to offer “because there is still an active investigation regarding this matter,” and Courtney and Dietrich also were mum, citing the “active police investigation.”
At their hearing for UpperWest, Courtney and Dietrich presented their own petition with 532 signatures and 33 individually written letters of support, while the DePaulo petition was never referred to.
Andrea Spears Jackson, chairwoman of the License Commission, said she doesn’t give a lot of weight to petitions. “My own personal opinion, in terms of petitions, you look at addresses – are they grabbing people who are just walking by? We’ve seen it before,” Jackson said.
“I can’t speak for the board,” she said, but “I support personalized letters more.”
Jackson’s tenure as chairwoman began in December 2013, but she said she hadn’t heard stories from fellow commissioners of faked petitions being submitted.
“This sounds like a first,” she said.