Appeal filed against Planning Commission approval of restaurant

An Avondale resident has filed an appeal with City Council against the Planning Commission’s Aug. 18 decision to approve a 120-seat restaurant in the 5,470-square-foot space formerly occupied by the retail store Cowford Traders.

Alicia Grant, who lives on Riverside Avenue behind the Shoppes of Avondale, filed the appeal the first week in September and the Office of General Counsel filed the legislation (Resolution 2016-656) for it on Sept. 21. The appeal was introduced to City Council on Sept. 27 with an opportunity for public comment, however no one spoke.

The Land Use and Zone Committee will hear Grant’s appeal, possibly in a separate special hearing, followed with a final vote by City Council, dates yet to be determined.

Absent an appeal, the Planning Commission’s approval would have been all that was needed for the restaurant to move forward, according to Grant. The appeal process moves the decision from an appointed body to an elected body. “Unfortunately, this Planning Commission has been overstepping their charge making it necessary for citizens to incur the costs of appeals or lawsuits and the City Council and its committees to use their time and efforts to right the PC decisions,” she said.

The City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department had recommended approval of the exception with two conditions; one would limit the size of the restaurant to 2,500 square feet, thus prohibiting banquet space, and the other would ensure outside seating would meet all requirements for ADA accessibility and would not obstruct pedestrian traffic.

The applicant, property owner Thomas R. Lee, had requested an administrative deviation to reduce the number of required parking spaces from 10 to zero on behalf of his tenant, BMR Dining Group, of New York. The applicant’s administrative deviation to reduce parking requirements to zero, however, was not approved by Planning Department staff.

The parking situation for residents and merchants alike is at a critical mass, said Grant in an email to residents in the area of the Shoppes. “Since I live on Riverside in the block between Talbot and Ingleside, the parking on my block will not be affected as it can’t get any worse,” she stated. “The same goes for those living on Pine Street.”

Grant also said current restauranteurs and merchants have reported long-time customers have decreased their visits due to lack of convenient parking.

Frank Gallo, who owns the Blue Fish Restaurant building and the parking lot next to it, supported the statement with his own observation. “I have customers, ex-customers [of the Blue Fish], telling me they are not coming into the neighborhood anymore because they can’t find a place to park,” he said at the Aug. 18 hearing before the Planning Commission. “A lady said to me, ‘You know, I used to go to Avondale to shop. I don’t go anymore. I just avoid the place’ because it’s too long for her to take a 15-minute lunch break to get into Avondale.”

According to Grant, the Riverside Avondale Preservation board of directors voted to support the appeal, but RAP is not in a position to financially support it or to file a separate appeal.

In order to fund legal expenses, Grant has reinstated the community group We Love Avondale.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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