Neighbors rally against restaurant planned for old laundry center

Neighbors rally against restaurant planned for old laundry center

Residents believe Roost is fox in henhouse

In what may be an ironic choice for a name, The Roost is being viewed by residents as the fox in the henhouse, believing that approval of the plan bodes ill for the neighborhood.

What was initially pitched as a small, 60-seat breakfast and lunch café expanded into a 150-seat late-night restaurant after the property owner, Anthony Saleeba, offered up two of his three buildings at the former Deluxe cleaner site on Oak Street to restaurant developers Ted Stein and J.C. Demetree.

Once word spread about The Roost, residents joined forces to oppose the plan. In a matter of just a few weeks, a group led by Kevin Pettway coalesced formally as P.R.O.U.D.: Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development. Pettway, who lives near the proposed restaurant, created a website, proudofriverside.com, and initiated social media to find supporters against the plan.

“My wife and I were on a walk when I first heard about the proposed development from a neighbor who had discovered it from city government. We immediately began asking around to see what anyone else knew, and shortly afterwards, I happened to bump into Ted Stein himself,” said Pettway. “He pitched me the initial, smaller-scale version of the restaurant. At first my attitude was to wait and see, but I quickly became alarmed and began meeting with other concerned neighbors to organize opposition to this proposal.”

RoostSitePlanIn early November, Stein and Demetree circulated a petition among residents living on Riverside Avenue, Oak Street, and Herschel Street as well as the cross streets in between to solicit support to rezone the property at 2220 Oak St. They invited the community to hear about their proposed restaurant on Nov. 12 at the Riverside Avondale Preservation office.

The neighborhood is currently zoned CRO (Commercial Residential Office) in a Residential Historic Character Area. Due to the amount of deviations needed for the restaurant, Saleeba is applying for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to “facilitate the redevelopment of a commercial area and provide for a unified scheme of development.”

Neighbors flatly oppose Roost

Pettway said he and a group of concerned citizens met with Riverside Avondale Preservation in late October and stated only one person at that meeting was in favor of the idea.

“Everyone else was clearly opposed,” he said. “[At the Nov. 12 meeting] I saw a packed room of neighbors united in their objection to the plan. Even J.C. [Demetree] said, and I quote, ‘I’m a little taken aback by this.’ Clearly, the developers underestimated the strength of the opposition to this proposal.”

RoostRenderings-1Among the concerned neighbors is Roxanne Henkle, who lives in a 100-year-old carriage house across the street from the old Deluxe cleaners. A resident since 1990, Henkle is opposed to The Roost for a variety of reasons.

“I am concerned that the proposed 150-seat restaurant would have an adversely intense impact upon our area. Currently, Snap Fitness has taken up much of the street parking. Parking requirements alone would displace many residential and tenant parking,” Henkle said. “Add a 150-seat restaurant with alcohol and the street will suffer from constant strain of traffic, not to mention the effects of late night hours on the neighborhood that is mostly residential.”

Nancy Murrey-Settle and her sister Ruth Thompson grew up in the neighborhood and they were in attendance at the standing-room only meeting. “My grandparents bought two homes in 1922, and we have been stewards of the property and neighborhood since then,” said Murrey-Settle. “We definitely have deep roots and a stake in all of this.”

Murrey-Settle said there is much to lose if the PUD is allowed against the zoning currently in place. “If we allow too many exemptions, variances and, in this case, a complete PUD, that will change the fabric of our residential areas in Riverside. We can say goodbye to many of the homeowners who have invested their time and money to make Riverside the ‘hot’ area it is,” she said. “What attracts the developers to our area is exactly what they will destroy by their presence.”

Not right fit, says RAP 

The PUD notes there will be 41 parking spots onsite, but according to the Municipal Code, 54 off-street parking spaces are required. The PUD indicates 13 spaces on the street will pick up the difference, however those spaces are shared with Snap Fitness, a gym located next door.

RoostRenderings-3Parking issues as well as increased noise and traffic are not the only concerns. At the Nov. 12 meeting, several people raised the issue of the PUD itself, which is filed under the property owner.

“Their Planned Urban Development (PUD) re-zoning request will stay with the property forever, making it easy for another bar to use it, without public input, should this development fail,” said Pettway. “Unfortunately, such failure is statistically likely. It’s a slippery slope, and we don’t want to go there.”

Run-off is another concern. Riverside Avenue residents living along the back side of the Oak Street property are currently dealing with water intrusion. One homeowner said she has 1,300 square feet of mold in her house from run-off behind Snap Fitness. She, along with others, is concerned that a paved parking lot will increase run-off, which causes flooding behind the property.

In response, Steve Diebenow, attorney for the developers, stated development of the property is not allowed to cause runoff that will hurt neighboring properties.

“If the lot is paved, we might as well send our neighbors little boats to use for the summer in their back yards,” said Henkle, in an email to city officials.

At stake, too, is the precedent that will be set if this PUD is approved by Land Use and Zoning, the Planning Commission, and City Council. Although Diebenow claimed an approval will not set a precedent because all applications are judged on their own merits, Carmen Godwin, RAP executive director, disagrees.

“This absolutely does set a precedent. It’s important what happens in this case,” she said. “It’s just not the right fit for this location. There is not one other property zoned CRO with a restaurant in our district.”

Godwin stated RAP had offered to help Stein and Demetree find another, more suitable location for their restaurant, but they said they knew what they were getting into.

“They are asking for so much more than what’s allowed. If they are not willing to negotiate, what role can RAP play?” she asked. “It’s tough for us to be a mediator.”

Murrey-Settle said if it were not for RAP, Riverside would not be the hot neighborhood it is. “When we did the remodel at our house we respected the codes and restrictions that come with living in a neighborhood that has a historical designation,” she said. “I expect big moneyed developers to do the same.”

RoostRenderings-2During the Nov. 12 meeting at RAP’s office, residents asked for changes to the PUD, which Diebenow and the developers indicated they would take into consideration. Although a revised document was not available at press time, Stein and Demetree issued a statement:

“We listened attentively to all of the concerns shared by the neighbors, staying after to answer every question. We were encouraged by the number of supporters in attendance after sharing our vision for The Roost during the course of the evening.  As Jacksonville natives, we want The Roost to blend into the artistic fabric of Riverside.

“After listening to the concerns of the neighbors we decided to make changes to the initial concept to ensure that we re-develop these two vacant, dilapidated, historic buildings into something that makes Riverside proud. Our vision for The Roost can only succeed, and be made better, through a constructive and positive dialogue with all interested parties.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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