Speakeasy, package store owners prepare for opening

Parking waiver draws concern

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Many residents are toasting plans for The Parlour and The Grape & Grain Exchange, a San Marco Square speakeasy and gourmet package store under renovations at the southwest corner of Balis Place and San Marco Boulevard. Interior improvements at the 3,125-square-foot site have been ongoing this fall and the “coming soon” sign appears to be a closer reality. An early November opening date seems imminent.
While the project has been widely embraced as a new retail vigor for the square, others are concerned it is setting a precedent for circumventing city parking requirements.
During the mid-October San Marco Preservation Society meeting, a longtime resident of Largo Road stood up to share his frustration with a parking waiver the business received from the planning council this summer.
“They were supposed to provide 45 parking spaces but they got a waiver to provide zero,” the resident told a full room of SMPS members and guests. “I don’t want to see our neighborhood become like Avondale.”
Avondale has faced myriad parking issues in recent years following administrative deviation approvals and other rezonings that have reduced parking requirements for local restaurant owners and retailers. With the area’s popularity surging, parking is scarce and residents nearby local commercial centers now face tight on-street parking in front of their homes and other fallout in the area of security and noise. Local representatives and groups like Riverside Avondale Preservation want to study the neighborhood’s parking predicament to see how to best move forward.
“We’re not opposed to business, but next time we need to pay attention to the parking – we can’t take very much more,” he said.
Bob Smith, owner of The Grape & Grain Exchange and a San Marco resident who has worked in many San Marco restaurants and establishments over the years, said parking has become “demonized” recently.
He said while there is a formula in place that says how many parking spaces are necessary based on the size of the business, it is not so simple in a historic district like
San Marco.
“In a historic district, you can’t just go in and build a parking garage — there are deviations for that,” Smith said. “We’re not creating any more of a forced use than there already exists in San Marco — we did our due diligence three times over. We’re not trying to come in and rewrite the book and open a crazy nightclub — we’re just trying to open something fun.”
He said San Marco is in a much better situation than Avondale in terms of parking resources.
“Yes we are a historic district like they are, but we have a better parking situation where there is room to grow,” he said, referencing the parking possibilities that cold come along with the East San Marco project at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard. “There is so much more room for groups to come in.”
A late summer waiver from the city planning commission provided The Grape & Grain and The Parlour two primary allowances: One, to reduce the required minimum distance between the property and a church or school from 1,500 feet to 342 feet in the CCG-1 Zoning District in order to receive a liquor license; and two, a companion administrative deviation to reduce the number of required parking spaces from 45 to 0 for the proposed nightclub use, the planning commission order read. The legislation – E-12-42 and AD-12-38 – were recommended for approval by the planning council subject to conditions.
The planning council recommended approval with the following conditions:
1. There shall be no patron/customer access from Balis Place and the alley at the southside rear of the property.
2. The area for retail liquor sales for off premises consumption shall be limited to 25 percent of the retail floor area portion of the building.
3. Prior to commencement of the use or issuance of a certificate of use, the applicant shall provide a letter from the Southside Baptist Church confirming the existence of a shared parking agreement between the church and the San Marco Merchants Association, which would accommodate the required 45 parking spaces for the proposed use.
4. The nightclub/lounge area portion of the space shall be limited to 1,800 square feet in area.
5. No speakers or amplified music shall be permitted outdoors.District 5 City Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who was sitting next to the resident during the Oct. 15 meeting, said the property is in compliance. But the issue needs to be addressed in the city’s parking code standards – which are universally designed and do not specify more urban, historic settings like San Marco.
“It’s an issue though – we have a single code standard four the city and it requires a lot of parking,” Boyer explained. “The same parking requirements are in place for a mall. In concept, in an urban area we don’t need to require the same number of spaces. On the other hand, we want to recognize the problems that have developed in Avondale.”
She said the Southside Baptist Church parking lot, which is shared parking arrangement between the church and community, is a “huge asset” for San Marco.
“Parking in San Marco is not as severe as Avondale yet, but it’s something we need to continue to watch,” Boyer said.

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