Sep 072011
 

The Uptowner, hosting a dinner with a menu from the Gabrielle restaurant. (Sabree Hill, UptownMessenger.com)

Two controversial restaurants that have been on the drawing boards for years met with the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association on Tuesday in search of residents’ approval for agreements that might win the city’s favor and allow them to open.

Greg Sonnier, still seeking to reopen his former Gabrielle restaurant in the Uptowner building on Henry Clay Avenue, convinced the association to reopen discussion of his plans once again.

And the owners of Johnny V’s, a restaurant proposed for the space next to Monkey Hill Bar on Magazine, offered a detailed list of operating conditions that barely won the association’s blessing over their qualms about the unauthorized addition of second-floor space.

The Gabrielle | Sonnier lost his well-known Mid-City restaurant in the floods after Hurricane Katrina, and subsequently bought the Uptowner building on Henry Clay Avenue, intending to reopen there. After the city informed him of zoning issues with the property, Sonnier and ARNA drafted a good-neighbor agreement together in 2007 that would govern issues such as parking around the location, but a lawsuit derailed his rezoning effort and he withdrew from the agreement without signing it.

Late last year, Sonnier resurrected his plans, but after several months his request was again shot down by the City Council. Because a failure to work with the neighborhood association was cited among the reasons for the denial, Sonnier said Tuesday night, he had decided to try again, but starting by winning over his neighbors and drafting an operating agreement that they were comfortable with.

“Whether the city can move forward, who knows?” Sonnier told the association Tuesday. “But at least I have your support.”

Sonnier has been a fixture at ARNA meetings since his restaurant was denied, chiming in on land-use issues and volunteering to collect food donations for the association’s upcoming National Night Out Against Crime event. The city’s rejection of his application would normally result in a two-year waiting period before he could try again, but Sonnier said Tuesday that rule can be waived if a sufficient reason is offered — such as, perhaps, the request of the neighborhood.

No one on the ARNA board spoke against Sonnier’s idea, and association president Sara Meadows Tolleson suggested that he begin meeting with the board’s zoning committee to see if the 2007 document might form the basis for a new agreement.

“There’s nothing preventing Greg from meeting with the zoning committee,” Tolleson said.

Johnny V’s | After a chilly reception and deferral from the City Planning Commission last month, the owners of Johnny V’s asked ARNA to consider a similar agreement.

City approval has already been granted for a restaurant next to Monkey Hill bar, but during recent renovations to the property, a second floor was added without the city’s permission — drawing the consternation of neighbors, association members and several planning commissioners. Now, the restaurant must either get the additions approved as well or remove them, so its owners are hoping that a good-neighbor agreement will be deemed a sufficient sanction to allow its opening.

If no compromise is reached, “the restaurant will amend itself, and it’s still going to be there, and the bar’s going to be there, and you’re not going to have any of the provisos,” said attorney Justin Schmidt.

ARNA proposed a number of conditions, beginning with Johnny V’s securing a contract with the Perlis family for use of their parking lot, in addition to the patchwork of spaces they’ve lined up at other businesses closed at night. They asked that lunch not be served, also to avoid parking conflicts, a condition that restaurateur Johnny Vodanovich said he had originally envisioned anyway. They also asked that the upper level be sealed off and completely unused, essentially undoing the addition without the expense of removing it.

Even those changes were insufficient for a handful of immediate neighbors of the business, who beseeched the board not to approve the changes. Some of their concerns were general, such as litter, noise and parking complaints associated with Monkey Hill, and some were more pointed at the unpermitted additions.

“At any point in the future, that area could be developed for additional dining,” said Loretta Hoskins, who also spoke against the project before the City Planning Commission. “It doesn’t matter if it’s this property owner or a future property owner.”

Other board members, however, said that the good-neighbor agreement will provide protection from increased impacts from the business. The ARNA board voted 7-5 in favor of the changes, but said they will withdraw their approval if an agreement is not signed by Oct. 1.

To read live coverage of the meeting, click “Replay” in the box below.

  7 Responses to “Johnny V’s, Gabrielle restaurants seek new agreements with neighborhood”

  1. Who do these ARNA people think they are? Elected officials? Do they believe they should be doing anything but supporting the neighbors? They completely turn their noses up at the neighbors affected by Johnny V’s. Looks like these board members have a personal agenda-not surprising. Why does this group refuse to require businesses to follow the law? Why do they continue to refer to themselves as a “neighborhood association,” when they do nothing for the neighborhood. Disgusting. Hopefully Susan Guidry sees through their antics.

  2. I agree Stu. If building owners cannot follow proper permitting and building procedures the offending structure should be torn down. No excuses. The city set a bad precedent with Romney Pilates for the same offense by not requiring them to build as permitted, period.
    There is no legitimate reason for not allowing the Sonnier’s to operate The Uptowner as a restaurant on commercially zoned property. The excuses that have been given are issues that every neighborhood in this city deals with due to the unique fabric of the neighborhoods. It is not the entire neighborhood who is against the Sonnier’s just the “important few”.
    The neighborhood associations in this town are completely out of control.

  3. And just why is ARNA backing all of these “over-sized” businesses? First Romney’s Pilates , then Whole Foods, followed by Walgreen’s, now Johnny V’s…next is Sonnier’s. ALL of these are contrary to what the residents want.
    What a bunch of hypocrites! ARNA is ignoring the objections of the residents (“too intense for the neighborhood”) in favor of rewriting variances and special conditions for businesses that are not in scale with the rest of the neighborhood (“the bigger the better”). I guess donating goods and-or services to ARNA is rewarded with ARNA’s support. Sounds like more than just a conflict of interest to me.

  4. ARNA has no legitimacy as a neighborhood association, ignoring over and over again their original mission of preserving the quiet, family friendly ambiance that is the hallmark of the neighborhood. The board members have no interest in land use or zoning concepts so that they act in a very selfish way – They have given NIMBY a new meaning – If it’s not in their back yard, they dont care what zoning laws are broken.

  5. ARNA opposed Romney strongly, but were out maneuvered the same way the City Council and City Planning were.

    They opposed most of what WHole Food asked for, but along with 99% of the neighbors, including 50% of the closest neighbors, did not oppose Whole Foods’ request for revising some more minor parts of their 10 year old provisos — one hour per week extra store time, plants our front, live music unamplified in daylight twice a month. That’s it! Most neighbors were annoyed ARNA wasn’t agreeing to more.

    Johnny Vs is coming w/ or w/o ARNA support. If they get shot down by Coty Planning, it won’t be the whole project (which is lawful), it’ll just be to rip out the 2nd floor which they will not be allowed to use for tables anyway. If that happens they will withdraw all their restrictions. The NIMBY neighbors complaining about ARNA being too permissive will get LESS restrictions that way, not more.

    Those complaining about ARNA are displaying the same shoot themselves in the foot neighbor NIMBY attitude that got us into a parking problem with Whole Foods ten years ago — they opposed the parking behind WFs and everybody lost (WF AND neighbors).

    ANyway, I hope more LOCAL, NON-CHAIN, EXCELLENT businesses like Gabrielles, Johnny Vs, etc. come to Magazine. These are what make the hood so walkable, livable, diverse, and funky. I;m glad we have a neighborhood association that doesn’t just automatically oppose EVERY SINGLE project, like others do.

  6. […] securing additional parking, to satisfy neighbors opposed to the project — narrowly winning the approval of the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association last […]

  7. […] for the added space in the restaurant. (The surrounding neighborhood association’s support for the project is contingent on that contract as well.) Stephen Kroll, a member of the planning commission staff, told the commission Tuesday […]

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