Mellow Mushroom and We Love Avondale/RAP reach agreement in private after many public debates

Restaurant aiming for August opening

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

The two sides debating conditions under which to build a Mellow Mushroom restaurant in the Shoppes of Avondale reached a compromise behind closed doors after nine months of public disagreements. Mellow Mushroom owner John Valentino said he is now aiming for a mid August opening.

The settlement agreement was privately hammered out between opposing sides from Dec. 7 to Jan. 4 under the mediation of District 14 Councilman Jim Love. After being vetted at a special Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting on Jan. 5, Amendment 2012-690 was unanimously passed by City Council on Jan. 8 and contains 23 conditions placing restrictions on the restaurant’s size, noise control and parking.

Of particular note:
• Total seat count is 204 with 40 of those permitted outdoors.
• Average number of employees permitted on a shift is 14.
• Employee parking is offsite.
• No valet parking.
• Parking lot cannot be used for special events without permit.
• No amplified music in parking lot.
• Live music will only be permitted in the patio when all windows are closed.
• No televisions on any exterior façade.
• Outside sales and service ends between 10 p.m. and midnight or will not be permitted at all depending on the location or “zone” within the restaurant and the day of the week.
• Windows and doors will be closed between 9 p.m. and midnight, depending on their location and the day of the week.
• Security provided Thursday-Saturday nights starting 10 p.m.
• Last call 1:30 a.m.

Enforcement of the conditions was the only major point of discussion that arose during the council meeting. In addition to concerns voiced by several residents, Councilman John Crescimbeni pressed representatives from Mellow Mushroom about their commitment to the agreement. His concern arose from a quote in the Jacksonville Business Journal in which Valentino suggested that he might seek an administrative deviation to increase the number of seats above what was agreed upon.

In response, attorney Steve Diebenow, representing Mellow Mushroom, noted that Valentino’s quote was given prior to the final agreement and said, “Mr. Valentino intends to stick by the settlement agreement, and everything that’s in there he is going to live up to.”
Riverside Avondale Preservation President Jonathan Oliff said that RAP was comfortable with the terms of the settlement and noted, “If the applicant intends to come back later [to apply for a deviation] he will face opposition.” Oliff spoke on behalf of other opposition neighborhood groups, individuals and We Love Avondale, LLC, who had worked out the agreement.

In a final statement before the vote, Councilman Love said, “We worked very hard on coming up with these conditions and I believe that both parities are ready to keep them just the way they are… I’m going to hold him [Valentino] to his word and I believe he’ll keep it.”
Valentino said that he and his team were heading back to the drawing board to finish up the restaurant’s design. “We pretty much put the breaks on that during this whole process.”

Mellow Mushroom spokesperson Simon Keymer said in an email that they hope to break ground “within the next couple of months” and that they are “identifying the prep work now” for demolition of the old Shell gas station on the corner of St. Johns and Ingleside avenues that will be turned into the restaurant’s parking lot. In a separate interview, Valentino said that there was no special toxic cleanup necessary for the gas station site because previous owners worked with EPA to clean it up and that he (Valentino) had his own testing done.

Valentino posted a statement on the Mellow Mushroom website indicating that he has put the “long and sometimes painful process” behind him: “Now we are focusing on the future. I hope by mid-summer we will have established a wonderful neighborhood restaurant that we can all be proud of. We look forward to serving our friends and neighbors and establishing ourselves, as we have elsewhere in the city, as a popular focus and venue for the local community.”

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