Mellow Mushroom owners to tear down gas station

Appeals to restaurant’s plans to be heard in January

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Mellow Mushroom of Avondale owner John Valentino said he plans to raze the gas station property he owns on St. Johns Avenue in time for the December holidays.
The news coincides with announcement of an upcoming Land Use and Zoning appeals hearing in early January. In addition to a group of neighbors calling themselves We Love Avondale LLC and Riverside Avondale Preservation, three other local groups have signed on to appeal a Sep. 17 city planning commission’s approval of Mellow Mushroom’s exception application for the restaurant. The appeals, originally slated to be heard Dec. 4, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 5.
Mellow comes nowhere close to describing the neighborhood frenzy over the restaurant’s plans, now in its fifth version. The latest designs call for a shorter bar, 198 seats and a smaller building footprint, according to Valentino.
Valentino said, as the property owner, he has every right to tear the gas station down and proceed with site preparation for a new building — despite ongoing plan appeals from area residents. The gas station property originally was slated to be part of an adaptive re-use restaurant design with green space that includes the adjacent Shoppes retail space formerly occupied by ‘town. In an effort to provide more on-site parking, however, Valentino opted to revise the site design according to plans suggested by WLA and RAP. Instead of incorporating the existing gas station structure into the plans, WLA and RAP proposed the building be razed and a new building constructed to create additional parking onsite.
Because it is hard to insure the vacant building in its current state, he said a tear-down made logical sense. He expected to do it before early December, and in a mid-November interview said he hoped to raze the structure before Christmas in Avondale. Valentino planned to stage a benefit for Nemours children’s cancer efforts on the Mellow Mushroom gas station site during the annual neighborhood holiday gathering. Valentino said the fundraising plans included service of burritos, beer and hot chocolate.
Talk of the January appeals hearing, however, takes the glimmer out of Valentino’s gaze.
“We’re not trying to build the biggest thing in Avondale, we just want to be treated like everyone else,” Valentino said, noting how personal the issue has become during the past six months. Residents on both sides of the issue are friends and neighbors — Valentino said he sees many of the people against his restaurant at local club events and children’s gatherings. “This is discrimination — I have no right to tell residents what to do with their property. It’s disappointing. I think there are a lot of people who think Avondale is too good for barbecue and pizza.”
Tommy Donahoo, a local attorney who lives near the Shoppes of Avondale and has been at the forefront of the We Love Avondale group described by Mellow Mushroom officials as “the opposition,” said the message in the five appeals filed to the city’s LUZ committee is well stated.
“We have stated our position with Mellow Mushroom throughout the summer in terms of size, scale, hours of operation, noise and impact to the area,” Donahoo said. “While we have been called mean-spirited, we are simply residents who are attracted to the area because of its charm, character and high quality of life.”
He said the Shoppes have presented “a nice complement to the area residences” as it was intended years ago in its design.
“The appeals have been filed to protect and maintain the Shoppes as a local, neighborhood shopping area that is worthy of national recognition,” Donahoo said. “Unfortunately, the Mellow Mushroom team has a different vision of the future — the addition of a large, late-night bar/restaurant will change the character of the Shoppes.”
Top concerns, he said, are parking and traffic as well as size, scale, noise issues and hours of service.
Valentino and Simon Keymer, a neighborhood public affairs specialist with Keymer Inc. who has been assisting Mellow Mushroom, said the restaurant wants to be afforded the same rights as other restaurants already existing in the area. The problems raising the most concerns — parking, safety and noise — are the problems of other entities.
“If there are people misbehaving late at night, it’s a JSO problem,” Valentino said. “If there are people parking and blocking driveways, it’s a city problem.”
Still, opponents of Mellow Mushroom’s restaurant plans say the owners have not done enough.
“Changes offered since the presentation of initial plans at the April meeting at Grace Church have not reduced the community’s concerns; despite countless hours and meetings,” Donahoo said. “So that is why these concerns need to be heard by our elected officials.”
For more information on the upcoming appeals, visit www.igetmellow.com, www.weloveavondale.com, and www.riversideavondale.org.

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