Mixed reviews for local restauranteur

Mellow Mushroom, Avondale parking focus of April
community gathering

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

A lot of people like Mellow Mushroom Pizza Baker — but not everyone wants them in their own backyard, especially in the Shoppes of Avondale.
Resident John Valentino wants to open his fourth Mellow Mushroom location in the long vacant Shoppes' gas station property and adjacent storefronts now occupied by 'town and Emly Benham — perhaps by early October. While the idea has plenty of resident support, many residents and business owners are concerned the 225-seat restaurant could adversely affect customer access, parking, safety and property values in an already challenged commercial corridor.
All sides had the opportunity to air their thoughts at a community meeting, held April 26 at Grace Church Avondale.
A standing room only crowd filled the church's fellowship hall April 26 within minutes of the meeting's 7 p.m. start time. Turnout was so large, the group was redirected to the church sanctuary. RAP Chairman Jonathan Oliff emceed the event, billed a meeting "with an
eye toward productive
conversation" about the restaurant's plans in the Shoppes of Avondale. Local resident and attorney Steve Diebenow also attended and addressed the audience during the meeting on behalf of Mellow Mushroom.
"We need your input — it's our community," said District 14 City Councilman Jim Love, who opened the meeting. "There has to be some compromise here so we can make a good decision, that's what we need to do today."
Hands down, parking was the focus of discussion, and here's why: Mellow Mushroom owners want to open a 200-225-seat restaurant. The Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay requires Valentino to provide 31
parking spaces for a restaurant of that seating capacity in an existing historic noncontributing building. While Valentino said he can create 14 new parking spaces on-site, he projects a parking shortfall. That leaves Valentino looking for creative and available places in the neighborhood to park vehicles.
While there were many residents at the meeting show support Mellow Mushroom's neighborhood debut, a vocal group spoke out against plans to bring another large, high volume restaurant into the Shoppes — known for its smaller scale, boutique ambiance.
"I'm glad you've done well in business, but I don't want you in Avondale — we don't have any parking now. This is an old line neighborhood and you're trying to change it — I don't want you here," said Harry Reinstine, 86, who lives on Richmond Street several blocks from the Shoppes of Avondale. "They're parking all through the neighborhood now, I just don't want it — go somewhere else."
Others were concerned the restaurant — at that size — would compound parking access to existing retail shops, and exacerbate nighttime noise, late night violence and drunken episodes, criminal activity and
property values.
"At some point we are going to max out and I believe we are past that point," said Mark Anderson, who lives just a block from the Shoppes of Avondale and has had to call the police three times during his residency about late night activity near his home. "Your home is what you have, there's already been depreciation and we don't want more."
An overriding concern is that the entrance of larger capacity restaurants like Mellow Mushroom would make parking so impossible for shoppers and diners, that they might eventually stop coming. One Shoppes store employee expressed the notion with a Yogi Berra quote: "The place got so popular no one goes there anymore."
Diebenow, an attorney with Driver McAfee Peek & Hawthorne, underscored Mellow Mushroom ownership is still in a fact-finding mode and that applications have not yet been filed — and nothing is pending. He did, however, share some potential ideas for addressing Avondale's parking shortfalls. One thought is to create eight to 10 valet parking spots along Van Wert and Boone Park. Another idea is to negotiate parking at the Prudential building in the Shoppes. Still another is to use some of the vacant spots behind the Shoppes of Avondale. Diebenow also suggested making some streets one way around the Shoppes, perhaps making Talbot Avenue a one-way street.
Valentino, a resident of Fairfax Manor and a Jacksonville native, said he has purchased the 2,200-square-foot gas station property at the corner of St. Johns and Inglelside avenues and intends to lease the Shoppes retail space next door for Mellow Mushroom, his fourth locally owned pizza bakery. Plans for the Avondale store will include a 35-seat bar, a beer garden, space for live music, comfortable family dining and activity space and plans for 200-225 interior and exterior seats, he said. Plans also include the creation of exterior green space on vacant gas station property's concrete parking.
"This was all a matter of timing," said Valentino, who was born at Riverside Hospital and has three children ranging in age from 10 weeks to 10 years at neighborhood schools. "The gas station caught my eye — I think it's a really neat opportunity to add what is already there, this is a really great corner. I want to give this back to the community."
He has hired Design Cooperative, the design firm behind 5 Points newest commercial building 1534 Oak Street, to help make that happen. Formal designs are not yet available, Valentino said. While he now owns the gas station property and has announced plans to take over 'town and Emly Benham's storefronts, there are many zoning hoops through which he has to jump.
A rezoning application that would change the property to a PUD is slated for May 1. Rezoning hearings are expected through the end of June, Valentino said.
Notably, most of the residents who attended the community meeting said they love Mellow Mushroom. Having been to the restaurant in other areas, they think the pizzas are delicious and would love to patronize a store if there was one nearby. How nearby, however, may be where the common ground ends for some residents living near the Shoppes of Avondale. Others are excited about the idea of having the dining option nearby.
"This is a bigger issue — if it's not them, it will be someone else," said Tonya Yont.

Mellow Mushroom, Avondale parking focus of April
community gathering

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

A lot of people like Mellow Mushroom Pizza Baker — but not everyone wants them in their own backyard, especially in the Shoppes of Avondale.
Resident John Valentino wants to open his fourth Mellow Mushroom location in the long vacant Shoppes’ gas station property and adjacent storefronts now occupied by ‘town and Emly Benham — perhaps by early October. While the idea has plenty of resident support, many residents and business owners are concerned the 225-seat restaurant could adversely affect customer access, parking, safety and property values in an already challenged commercial corridor.
All sides had the opportunity to air their thoughts at a community meeting, held April 26 at Grace Church Avondale.
A standing room only crowd filled the church’s fellowship hall April 26 within minutes of the meeting’s 7 p.m. start time. Turnout was so large, the group was redirected to the church sanctuary. RAP Chairman Jonathan Oliff emceed the event, billed a meeting “with an
eye toward productive
conversation” about the restaurant’s plans in the Shoppes of Avondale. Local resident and attorney Steve Diebenow also attended and addressed the audience during the meeting on behalf of Mellow Mushroom.
“We need your input — it’s our community,” said District 14 City Councilman Jim Love, who opened the meeting. “There has to be some compromise here so we can make a good decision, that’s what we need to do today.”
Hands down, parking was the focus of discussion, and here’s why: Mellow Mushroom owners want to open a 200-225-seat restaurant. The Riverside Avondale Zoning Overlay requires Valentino to provide 31
parking spaces for a restaurant of that seating capacity in an existing historic noncontributing building. While Valentino said he can create 14 new parking spaces on-site, he projects a parking shortfall. That leaves Valentino looking for creative and available places in the neighborhood to park vehicles.
While there were many residents at the meeting show support Mellow Mushroom’s neighborhood debut, a vocal group spoke out against plans to bring another large, high volume restaurant into the Shoppes — known for its smaller scale, boutique ambiance.
“I’m glad you’ve done well in business, but I don’t want you in Avondale — we don’t have any parking now. This is an old line neighborhood and you’re trying to change it — I don’t want you here,” said Harry Reinstine, 86, who lives on Richmond Street several blocks from the Shoppes of Avondale. “They’re parking all through the neighborhood now, I just don’t want it — go somewhere else.”
Others were concerned the restaurant — at that size — would compound parking access to existing retail shops, and exacerbate nighttime noise, late night violence and drunken episodes, criminal activity and
property values.
“At some point we are going to max out and I believe we are past that point,” said Mark Anderson, who lives just a block from the Shoppes of Avondale and has had to call the police three times during his residency about late night activity near his home. “Your home is what you have, there’s already been depreciation and we don’t want more.”
An overriding concern is that the entrance of larger capacity restaurants like Mellow Mushroom would make parking so impossible for shoppers and diners, that they might eventually stop coming. One Shoppes store employee expressed the notion with a Yogi Berra quote: “The place got so popular no one goes there anymore.”
Diebenow, an attorney with Driver McAfee Peek & Hawthorne, underscored Mellow Mushroom ownership is still in a fact-finding mode and that applications have not yet been filed — and nothing is pending. He did, however, share some potential ideas for addressing Avondale’s parking shortfalls. One thought is to create eight to 10 valet parking spots along Van Wert and Boone Park. Another idea is to negotiate parking at the Prudential building in the Shoppes. Still another is to use some of the vacant spots behind the Shoppes of Avondale. Diebenow also suggested making some streets one way around the Shoppes, perhaps making Talbot Avenue a one-way street.
Valentino, a resident of Fairfax Manor and a Jacksonville native, said he has purchased the 2,200-square-foot gas station property at the corner of St. Johns and Inglelside avenues and intends to lease the Shoppes retail space next door for Mellow Mushroom, his fourth locally owned pizza bakery. Plans for the Avondale store will include a 35-seat bar, a beer garden, space for live music, comfortable family dining and activity space and plans for 200-225 interior and exterior seats, he said. Plans also include the creation of exterior green space on vacant gas station property’s concrete parking.
“This was all a matter of timing,” said Valentino, who was born at Riverside Hospital and has three children ranging in age from 10 weeks to 10 years at neighborhood schools. “The gas station caught my eye — I think it’s a really neat opportunity to add what is already there, this is a really great corner. I want to give this back to the community.”
He has hired Design Cooperative, the design firm behind 5 Points newest commercial building 1534 Oak Street, to help make that happen. Formal designs are not yet available, Valentino said. While he now owns the gas station property and has announced plans to take over ‘town and Emly Benham’s storefronts, there are many zoning hoops through which he has to jump.
A rezoning application that would change the property to a PUD is slated for May 1. Rezoning hearings are expected through the end of June, Valentino said.
Notably, most of the residents who attended the community meeting said they love Mellow Mushroom. Having been to the restaurant in other areas, they think the pizzas are delicious and would love to patronize a store if there was one nearby. How nearby, however, may be where the common ground ends for some residents living near the Shoppes of Avondale. Others are excited about the idea of having the dining option nearby.
“This is a bigger issue — if it’s not them, it will be someone else,” said Tonya Yont.

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