Despite vocal local opposition, Roost gets one more approval closer to plan

Despite vocal local opposition, Roost gets one more approval closer to plan

A recent unanimous decision to approve The Roost, a 150-seat, late-night bar and restaurant on Oak Street, has frustrated nearby residents who wonder whether city planners are considering business opportunity over the letter of the law.

Based on action by the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department and by the Planning Commission, many opposed to the project question whether, for city officials, economics trumps the quality of life for residents in historic Riverside.

According to opponents of the restaurant, the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the Riverside Avondale Overlay, Zoning Codes and the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) are being completely disregarded by city planners.

“I believe approval of this PUD was very politically motivated. I want City Council to look at the facts, the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, the Overlay and Zoning Codes,” said Nancy Murrey-Settle, a resident who lives within 300 feet of the site of the proposed restaurant..

“This restaurant is surrounded by residential character area,” she said, referring to a zoning designation. “There’s some belief that PUDs pass over the land use regulations, but Section 3.2.6 of the FLUM prohibit the location of commercial usage, and prohibit the use of local streets for non-residential traffic.”

Murrey-Settle was one of 18 people who spoke against Bill 2016-55 at the March 22 City Council meeting. She and 29 others also spoke at the March 17 Planning Commission meeting, where the commissioners unanimously approved the PUD, despite conditions placed on the PUD by the Planning Department and objections from residents.

Ted Stein, J.C. Demetree and their attorney, Steven Diebenow, consistently and steadfastly resisted any requests by Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) to compromise the size, scale and intensity of the restaurant, citing the necessity for a minimum of 150 seats in order to apply for an SRX (special restaurant alcoholic beverage) liquor license. They contend a full liquor license, which typically costs $1,820/year, is required to pay for the costs of building out the restaurant.

“RAP has met with the developers on a number of occasions, and they have been unwilling to negotiate a scaled-down project that would be compatible within the historic district on this location,” said a statement issued by RAP prior to the Planning Commission hearing.

When District 6 Councilman Matt Schellenberg asked about a seating compromise during the Council’s public comment period on March 22, Diebenow responded that a 60-seat restaurant was not financially viable.

“The renovation costs are extraordinarily high here, so we need the SRX to make it happen,” he said.

Bait and switch?

Ironically, when the concept of the neighborhood restaurant was introduced to RAP in September 2015, it was as a 60-seat breakfast/lunch coffee shop.

“The Roost developers came to us in September with a breakfast and lunch concept closing at 3 p.m. with a coffee shop. We said we were open to considering something like that if they could come back with some plans,” said Nancy Powell, a member of RAP’s Zoning Committee, at the Planning Commission hearing. “Two weeks later, we were surprised that there were meetings being held…for a 150-seat, full alcohol, close at 2 a.m., live entertainment [establishment]. Needless to say, this was different than our understanding, and we told them this was too intense for this location.”

Stein, who spoke first at City Council, noted he and business partner Demetree live within five blocks of the site and emphasized his passion for the project. “We are so passionate about the future of the neighborhood we are willing to do anything to open this restaurant,” he said.

During the Planning Commission Meeting on March 17, Diebenow argued against three of the 12 conditions made by the Planning Department in its staff report. He said the first condition, which would prohibit outside sales and service to patrons at the 32 patio seats, should be granted because those 32 seats were already reflected on the site plan.

Planning Department Staff had made hours of operation another condition, requesting 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., but The Roost operators want longer hours.

Diebenow stated they had removed a request from the application to be able to change the hours at a later date, enabling the restaurant and bar to stay open later on the weekend, and in return want the hours to remain at 6:30 a.m. to midnight. During the week, the restaurant will close at 11 p.m. and patio service will shut down at 10 p.m.

Parking, always parking

The final condition argued against the project was the conversion of 18 parking spaces on Oak Street from 90-degree to parallel spaces, which would result in a lesser number, most likely by more than half. Currently, long vehicles parking perpendicular to the sidewalk encroach into the travel lane on Oak Street.

“We would prefer to keep 90-degree parking. And that’s primarily because, based on our analysis of the traffic accident reports from JSO since January 1, 2010, there have only been three traffic accidents at all of the property addresses,” said Diebenow at the Planning Commission meeting. “We don’t know if they’re a result of people backing out into traffic or what the actual accident was, but over a six-year period there’s only been three accidents in that area. Two of them were hit-and-runs. So presumably, they were cars that were parked.”

In that neighborhood many of the homes have no driveways and rely on street parking. Many residents, including Thad Crowe, Frank Bioteau and Randall Brooks, expressed concern about the problems that will occur when the restaurant’s patrons circle the neighborhood looking for parking.

“For people that live there, we have no place to park other than on the street. We cannot build a parking garage on our property. There is no room. A lot of houses have a single driveway to pull into. I share a driveway with my neighbor. I have to park on the street. When I come home now, with Snap Fitness here, oftentimes the Snap Fitness customers are parked in front of my house. I have no place to park,” said Brooks at the Planning Commission hearing. “What I’ve noticed over around King Street is, in searching for parking places, the cars pull up into driveways to turn around. So there’s constantly people pulling up into your driveway at night. The headlights, due to the incline of the driveways, are shining in the people’s windows of their houses. It’s just miserable.”

Barry Bobek, an attorney representing Kevin Pettway and P.R.O.U.D. (Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development), rebutted the parking
analysis provided by Diebenow.

“Mr. Diebenow takes credit for three spaces per thousand square feet of floor area because under Section 6, in parking, you’re allowed credit for a prior conforming use. Well, that wasn’t a conforming use at the time,” said Bobek. “If it was, it had two-per and not three-per, and so their analysis is off.

Bobek stated the restaurant would actually need 80 spaces if size, seats and other uses were calculated correctly. “They’ve got about 56. And they include parking on the street,” he said. “That overlooks or ignores the requirements of the Land Development Regulations, the Zoning Code.”

Parking is not considered an issue for some of the proponents for The Roost. Speaking in favor of the project was Joi Perkins, a realtor, who contends Oak Street is not residential. Perkins said her clients are drawn to the walkability of the area and often don’t have a car, taking Uber, riding their bikes or walking.

“If a client of mine said ‘I would like to live in a quiet residential area,’ I would never take them to Oak Street,” she stated. “It’s not residential, quiet residential. Go to Avondale if you want that.”

Despite the 30 to seven testimonies against the PUD, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the application, including amendments to the conditions which granted The Roost outside sales and services, longer hours of operation and denied the requirement to convert 90-degree parking to parallel parking.

“We were disappointed that, after two hours of cogent, persuasive, and technical testimony from qualified planning experts, Riverside Avondale Preservation, RAP founder Wayne Wood, and numerous affected property owners opposed to Bill 2016-55, the Planning Commission voted to approve it without considering any of it. In fact, they actually eased restrictions that the City’s own Planning Department had put into place, expanding the hours and loosening parking restrictions,” said Jennifer Wolfe, on behalf of PROUD. “When the viewpoints of affected citizens are not taken seriously by the Planning Commission members, everybody loses. We fully expect that City Council members, and particularly the Land Use and Zoning Committee, will be more thoughtful and informed in their response.”

The final hearing on Bill 2016-55 will be at the Land Use and Zoning Committee on April 5, and the committee will then vote on the bill on April 19. City Council will vote on April 26. All meeting are in Council Chambers at City Hall at 5 p.m.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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