Mellow movement: Commissions say yes to restaurant applications

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Mellow Mushroom restaurant developers can move forward with plans for an Avondale restaurant following key approvals last month from two city agencies.
The Jacksonville Historic Commission approved plans for the restaurant at a mid-September meeting. On Sep. 27, the Jacksonville Planning Commission reviewed the designs and approved a rezoning exception that would allow for alcohol sales at the site. The ownership group is listed as Emly Benham Investments LLC and MM Avondale, which was represented by Avondale resident and attorney, Steve Diebenow. The planning commission approved deferred item, E-12-35, but did not hear its companion legislation, AD-12-27 — an administrative deviation request to reduce required off-street parking for the restaurant. Mellow Mushroom officials withdrew the request.
“We are good to go ahead with build-out,” said Simon Keymer, a public affairs specialist with Keymer Inc. who has been assisting Mellow Mushroom owner and Fairfax Manor resident, John Valentino, in his bid to open a restaurant in the Shoppes of Avondale.
He said the commission was expected to approve the designs “on the basis that we have met the requirement for parking under the overlay by establishing a new parking lot and bringing the number of seats in the restaurant down to 206,” Keymer explained. He said because of lot at the rear of the building, Mellow Mushroom will be “somewhat unique in Avondale in that we will not require an administrative deviation for parking.”
A thumbs up from area regulatory boards has been a long time coming for Mellow Mushroom, which has been at the center of neighborhood debate over its size, contribution to parking challenges and noise issues, among other concerns. Soon after Valentino announced plans this spring to purchase the vacant gas station property in the Shoppes for an adaptive reuse that would include retail space in the adjacent building, many neighbors and business owners in the area stood in protest. They were concerned about the restaurant’s size and its impact on neighborhood safety, parking and noise. A group called We Love Avondale LLC formed in late spring to bring a collective voice for area opposition to the project.
Throughout the summer, We Love Avondale LLC representatives met with Mellow Mushroom officials to hammer out issues and determine other design alternatives. By August, the groups settled on a plan that would create on-site parking and slightly lessen Mellow Mushroom’s seating capacity from 220 to 206. Under this scenario, the restaurant scrapped plans to incorporate the vacant gas station property into the design — opting to raze the building and build a new structure on the site.
Still, We Love Avondale representatives expressed concern over the restaurant’s size and scope.
Tommy Donahoo, an Avondale resident and local attorney who has been at the forefront of We Love Avondale’s message, said the conditions placed on Mellow Mushroom at the hearing by We Love Avondale and Riverside Avondale Preservation “were certainly appropriate and helpful.”
“However the overall size is still at issue,” Donahoo said, adding the group is in discussion about an appeal.
Donnahoo said the group is disappointed by the planning commission’s late-September decision. But he was pleased the commission heard area residents concerns.
“We were very pleased and thankful they provided 76 residents, all of whom live within close proximity to the Shoppes, the opportunity to speak to the issues that we face with such a large regional sized restaurant wanting to be in the area,” he said.
Donahoo hopes dialogue continues with Mellow Mushroom owners.
“I know Councilman Love, as well as LUZ committee members, would encourage us to keep the conversations going with John and that’s what we intend to do,” Donahoo said.

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