Business owners worry about long term effects of Love’s ordinance

Riverside/Avondale Overlay modification may limit development

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

District 14 Councilman Jim Love’s ordinance modifying the Riverside/Avondale Overlay, which the city council unanimously passed June 24, has quietly gone into effect with little fanfare or public opposition and no community meetings.
Ordinance 2012-339 requires all new bars and nightclubs, and new restaurants with more than 100 seats and/or 2,500 square feet, to provide 50 percent of the city’s regular parking provision.
“Everybody says it’s been a long time coming,” Love said. “Just because it’s a rule doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a deviation. It just gives the council and citizens a chance to look at proposed development that may be bigger [then the ordinance allows] and see if it fits the scale of the neighborhood.”
But some business owners feel that the ordinance will limit the number and nature of businesses that seek to open in the historic district.
“Those that argue that you can still apply for a deviation are missing the point: It only adds another burden for the small businessman, another hoop to jump through. It’s just disappointing,” said Ben Davis, owner of Riverside’s Intuition Ale on King Street. “I don’t know that we would have been able to open if this ordinance had been on the books because we would have had to provide parking that isn’t available.”
One local restaurateur is currently facing that dilemma. Scott Schwartz, an Avondale resident and chef/owner of 29 South in Fernandina Beach, is seeking to open a new 150-seat restaurant called 29 South Jax in the area. He sees the ordinance as a major barrier to moving into the historic
“My clientele, the people who will follow 29 South, are in the Riverside/Avondale/San Marco areas,” Schwartz said. “I would probably take an already existing space and convert it to a restaurant. But now, unless I can find a building that was already a restaurant, my options are very limited. I wouldn’t say that I absolutely don’t see myself moving into the area, but the low chances of finding the perfect piece to fit the perfect puzzle makes it unlikely.”
Davis pointed to lost job opportunities because of such decisions and he also took issue with the fact that the ordinance passed without community meetings.
“When we were working on zoning exceptions for our brewery, we had a community meeting; Kickbacks and Mellow Mushroom both had community meetings. Not having one for this ordinance seems like a double standard,” said Davis, who wrote emails to Love opposing the ordinance. “There is an extreme vocal minority that drove this.”
Love feels that he provided plenty of opportunity to gather feedback from all sides and sights strong support from residents and some business owners, such as Karin Tucker of Biscotti’s and Ian Chase of The Fox, as proof that he has done the right thing for the district.
“When you see 20 or 30 speak for it and one against, it sends a pretty strong message to the council that you’re on the right track,” said Love, noting the position of those who spoke during four city council public hearings. (Davis contends that a lot of the opposition is “out there working and unable to attend council meetings.”)
The one dissenting voice was Allan DeVault’s of Black Sheep Restaurant Group, whose major issue was with the 100-seat, 2,500 square feet
“You just can’t easily fit a 100-seat restaurant into 2,500 square feet. It needs to be at least 4,000 square feet,” said DeVault. “The ordinance also takes away the incentive to rehabilitate contributing structures. It just sets a tough precedence.”
It is a precedence that greatly concerns Davis. “Who represents small business in this neighborhood? The answer is, unfortunately, no one.”
To read Ordinance 2012-339:

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