Riverside/Avondale Overlay modified to require more parking

By Steve DiMattia

 

The parking issues in Riverside/Avondale may have received some relief.

Larger restaurants and all nightclubs and bars in Riverside/Avondale will now be required to provide parking regardless of whether they are developed within a historically contributing or noncontributing structure, as per the unanimous passing of Ordinance 2012-339 by the city council on June 24.

The bill, sponsored by Riverside/Avondale District 14 Councilman Jim Love, amends the Riverside/Avondale Overlay to require new restaurants with more than 100 seats and/or 2,500 square feet, and all new bars and nightclubs to provide 50 percent of the city’s regular parking provision (regular code is one space per four seats and one space per two employees; 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet).

“The Overlay didn’t account for intensity in these contributing structures, like when a restaurant with a large number of employees and steady stream of customers might replace a smaller, less busy retail store,” Love said. “We certainly need a much more comprehensive solution, but hopefully this will help us manage some of the parking problems moving forward.”

The Overlay previously provided a zero parking variance for contributing historical structures that were not expanded.

“That worked to stimulate growth and put those historic structures into use, but we have become a victim of our own success and now have to find a balance,” said Avondale resident Karin Tucker, co-owner of 19-year-old Biscotti’s restaurant in the Shoppes of Avondale and one of several business owners who supported the ordinance.

She and about 30 other residents and business owners came out in support of the ordinance over a course of several public hearings dating back to May. This contrasted with one person who spoke in opposition, Allan DeVault from Black Sheep Restaurant Group.

In addition to thinking that the ordinance might stifle development during a down economy, he also took issue with the 2,500 square foot requirement. As per the ordinance, smaller restaurants will not have to contribute parking.

“One-hundred seats doesn’t really equal 2,500 square feet,” DeVault said. “The 2,500 square feet is the minimum amount required by the state for alcohol licensing. But when the state says 2,500 square feet, that’s service area, not total area.” He recommended that the ordinance allow for at least 4,000 square feet.

DeVault noted that, if you have 100 seats in 2,500 square feet of total area, that is only 25 square feet per seat. “Three popular Avondale restaurants – Brick, Biscotti’s and Mojo’s – all have square footage per seat in the mid 30’s.”

In spite of DeVault’s argument to go larger, many residents did not even want to allow for the 100-seat minimum, which Love added so as not to discourage development of smaller restaurants.

“We get a lot of flack when we compromise,” said Carmen Godwin, executive director of Riverside Avondale Preservation. “We were drilled by residents after the meeting that added the 100 seat amendment. But we are trying to meet in the middle and create a situation where smaller businesses can actually develop at a scale that may not please residents but allows for a workable business model that fits the character of the neighborhood.”

Mark Rubin, a developer with AccuBuild companies, thinks that those supporting the bill have a “myopic” view and feels that they may forget when the Avondale area was a “ghost town.” He was also concerned with how quickly the bill rushed through without any community meetings and no real input from developers. But having said that, he also thinks that the ordinance is not unreasonable from a real world, business perspective.

“While I think it’s best to let the free market take care of itself and not interfere with these types of ordinances, any good business person that has a facility greater than 2,500 square feet is going to have to account for parking and 50 percent of the requirement is a reasonable target. You’re going to provide for parking or you’re likely not going to succeed.”

Love is currently pushing for a parking study so that long term solutions can be found. A Scope of Services for Parking Analysis prepared by Ghyabi & Associates was delivered to the planning department over a month ago but no action has yet been taken.

“Shared parking lots, shuttles, employee lots, bicycle racks: These are all things we can look at in a study,” Love said. “For now, I hope the ordinance just gives some relief to the situation until we can get the big picture figured out.”

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