Appeal against new Avondale restaurant settled, with conditions

Appeal against new Avondale restaurant settled, with conditions

A settlement has been reached between Avondale resident Alicia Grant and the restaurant group interested in leasing space in the Shoppes of Avondale at the site of the former Cowford Traders shop.

Grant had appealed the City of Jacksonville Planning Commission’s Aug. 18 decision to allow New York-based BMR Dining Group to install a new restaurant with 100 seats inside and 20 seats outside at 3563 St. Johns Ave. The property owner, Thomas Rodman Lee, had asked for a deviation from minimum parking requirements and a zoning exception for sale and service of liquor, as well as outside sales and service.

Grant’s concern, along with that of other nearby residents and many of the businesses in the Shoppes of Avondale, was that the amount of space would allow for bar seating and standing room, which would not count in the 120-seat total, and would thus increase the number of vehicles seeking parking in an already parking-saturated shopping and dining district.

Soon after Grant filed her appeal against the Planning Commission’s approval of the zoning exception and administrative deviation, the property owner filed another application seeking a second 100-seat restaurant in the same space, separated by a fire wall, and requiring its own kitchen and liquor license.

This counteraction, filed by the applicant’s attorney, Steve Diebenow, would have enabled BMR Dining Group to divide the 5,450-square-foot space into two 100-seat restaurants, which are legal according to current zoning code. However, one of the conditions of the settlement was that this application would be withdrawn.

The settlement was presented to the Land Use and Zoning Committee Nov. 15 when it heard Grant’s appeal. At the public hearing, George Gabel, the attorney representing Grant, and Richard May, owner of buildings adjacent to the proposed restaurant site, spoke against the original application. However, Gabel conceded one small rest-
aurant was a better solution for the neighborhood than two, under existing law.

Grant agreed. “If they are going to take up the entire space, I would rather there be one 100-seat restaurant than [two with a total of] 200 seats,” she said.

Conditions of settlement

According to minutes of the meeting, the appeal was granted, and the Exception and the Administrative Deviation applications were amended with the six conditions in the settlement agreement plus three new conditions.

The first condition requires the restaurant seating to be 100 in total, inside and outside, including high-top tables. The second condition allows Grant to review and agree with the site plan prior to submission to the Land Use and Zoning Committee and Planning and Development Department.

The third condition, which must be final-
ized and signed before the recommendation goes before City Council, will require employees of the restaurant to park at an off-street parking lot, which the developer will secure with a lease. One possible lot mentioned in the Nov. 15 meeting was that of Grace Church of Avondale, at the corner of Herschel Street and Edgewood Avenue.

“I had hoped they would require em-
ployees to park on Herschel Street between Van Wert and Pine Grove,” said Grant. “There are no residences over there. But they felt more comfortable trying to get a lease for parking. I was also pushing for an 11 p.m. stop in kitchen service, but felt the parking issue was more important.”

Condition four requires the restaurant to stop kitchen service by no later than midnight, including the sale of alcohol, while condition five referred to keeping trash and grease storage inside the back of the restaurant instead of in the alley, as required by the Planning and Development Department in its approval.

Condition six in the settlement requires the applicant to withdraw E-16-62, the application seeking a second 100-seat restaurant.

During the Land Use and Zoning meeting Nov. 15, three more conditions were made. First, the permit for liquor license belongs to the applicant, not to the property, ensuring that another restaurant cannot lease the space without going through the same process.

Next, the Planning Department requested that Municipal Code Enforcement officers be granted the right to enter the building to check on compliance with the conditions of the settlement that pertain to the inside of the building, such as seat count, garbage and grease storage, etc. Under current code, a code enforcement officer cannot enter the premises.

Finally, by the request of LUZ, verification letters indicating compliance of conditions must be submitted prior to final building inspection or occupancy permit issued.

Grant said she shared the details of the settlement with Riverside Avondale Preservation Board Chair Keith Holt and Zoning Committee Chair Nancy Powell and that they were pleased with it, as was Dianne Garcia, president of the Shoppes of Avondale Merchants’ Association.

The only person outspokenly unhappy with the settlement was Richard May, who spoke against it and the application at the LUZ meeting.

“Avondale only has 107 parking spaces on St. Johns Avenue,” said May, who indicated he had contributed toward attorney fees. “There are 50 retail outlets that need parking, of which 14 are restaurants with a total of 1,143 seats.”

The appeal was heard by City Council Nov. 22 and approved.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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