Feb 072012
 

Johnny V's on Magazine Street, photographed in September. (UptownMessenger.com file photo by Robert Morris)

Johnny V’s is now open on Magazine Street, but the discovery that the controversial restaurant was allowed to quietly begin operation without fulfilling all the conditions set forth by the city — including signing a good-neighbor agreement — frustrated the board of the Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Association.

“They’re being rewarded for being non-compliant,” said ARNA member Cele Gordon during Tuesday’s board meeting.

After the city discovered a second-floor space at Johnny V’s last year that was not allowed by its original permit, renovations to the Magazine Street building were halted and the restaurant was instructed to apply for after-the-fact permission to move forward. In November, the restaurant’s request was granted by the City Council, but with an extensive list of conditions attached. Prior to opening, some of the un-permitted construction had to be undone, a signed lease was needed for use of the Perlis parking lot, and a good-neighbor agreement had to be signed with the Audubon-Riverside Neighborhood Association.

Since that time, it took two months for the restaurant to get the lease with Perlis, explained Kelly Butler, a land-use specialist from Councilwoman Susan Guidry’s office. The restaurant then asked for a temporary certificate of occupancy, saying that investors were becoming nervous and they had staff members they needed to pay, Butler said. Under the belief that parking was the most significant issue and had been resolved with the Perlis lease, Guidry agreed, Butler said.

Now, the restaurant has until mid-March to complete the required construction and reach a good-neighbor agreement, Butler said.

“They have 60 days to work out what they need to complete,” Butler said.

The explanation did not sit well with the members of the ARNA board, who questioned why a temporary certificate of occupancy would be granted prior to an ordinance becoming final, how a council member could authorize it, and why the ordinance remains unfinished in February even though a decision was supposedly required by council deadline in November.

Further, they said, Johnny V’s simply stopped communicating with them about the good-neighbor agreement — suggesting to the board that the restaurant had some reason to believe it would not need one.

“We’ve very concerned that they were given a 60-day operating certificate, when they forced us into very quick negotiations and then disappeared,” said ARNA vice president Tim Betbeze.

“We felt like we negotiated in good faith, and all of a sudden, we hear nothing,” Gordon agreed.

Butler said that Guidry shared some of the restaurant’s concerns about specific elements of the proposed good neighbor agreement, such as fines for creating litter or a requirement that the restaurant pay attorney’s fees if the neighborhood association finds reason to take them to court for a violation. Betbeze, however, said those items were previously agreed to by the restaurant, before communication ended.

The board took no action on the Johnny V’s issue, but asked Butler to relay their concerns back to Guidry, and possibly come meet with them.

The board also discussed traffic and parking at the new Walgreens planned for the old American Legion building, which is now slated for an August opening. To read our live coverage of the meeting, click in the box below.

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  • Beth

    Walgreen’s recently parted ways with ExpressScripts and I’m hearing estimates that the Tchoupitoulas store has lost around 50 percent of its pharmacy business. Losing pharmacy customers has to roll over to other parts of the business, as people tend to pick up a few things when they pick up prescriptions. This prescription contract is a nationwide action, and I’m wondering what effect will turn up on Walgreen’s quarterly earnings, and thus I am suspicious about their plans to move to Magazine Street, with the expense of that project.

  • thechosenuno

    Neighborhood association, don’t back down from getting your Good Neighbor Agreement. Especially the issue of attorney’s fees. The only thing a GNA does is take enforcement responsibility away from the city, which is totally dysfunctional when it comes to enforcing the city’s laws, and puts that responsibility on a neighborhood association. A neighborhood association should not have to shoulder the expense of hiring lawyers to enforce the city’s rules. The thought is ludicrous.

    Also, this same MO has happened before. A bad neighbor will agree to terms generally, then disappear when it comes close to needing to sign, then go complain to the city council person about terms they’ve already agreed to. I guarantee I can tell you what lawyer represents Johnny V’s.

    • iAMamused

      All of these ‘Good Neighbor Agreements’ undermine the authority of the city. New Orleans should stop this practice and the city should step up and include those provisions approved by the city council in the permit process. If they break the rules they lose their permit. The city NOT a group of individuals should be enforcing this. The little fiefdom of ARNA should not be allowed to enforce ANYTHING as they are not a government agency. If they need money to enforce rules they create then the neighborhood association needs to get the money from their own neighbors not the businesses that are forced into these agreements. I believe in this case ARNA is overstepping their bounds as a neighborhood association. The City Council should put them in their place by reminding ARNA that they are NOT a part of the city’s municipal enforcement process.

  • Justin Schmidt

    @thechosenuno and ARNA Members and Neighbors,

    While I appreciate your gratuitous attempt to disparage my reputation, I will simply respond by stating that if you were to look into the e-mail inboxes of Sara Meadows Tolleson and Tim Betbezes on December 15, 2011 at 10:51 a.m., you will find Johnny V’s fairly detailed and comprehensive response to the latest version of the Good Neighbor Agreement that was being negotiated with ARNA at the time. That e-mail was also copied to Karen Duncan, Upper Hurstville’s President and Kelly Butler in Councilmember Guidry’s office and later forwarded to Councilmember Guidry herself on December 21st. All three can confirm its delivery. Likewise, I have forwarded the full text to Robert Morris for his file.

    The bottom line is that to this day (February 9th – 56 days later), no member of ARNA has responded to my December 15th e-mail. I suppose it is ARNA’s prerogative not to do so, but to assign the blame on the lack of communication between Johnny V’s and ARNA on Johnny V’s or its attorney is unwarranted.

    As I explained to Robert Morris, this City cannot allow neighborhood associations to de-rail good and viable projects at their whim by inaction or unreasonably delayed action. Although I cannot speak for her, I believe Councilmember Guidry weighed all of the salient facts in this matter and made a decision accordingly.

    Regards,

    Justin B. Schmidt

    • Matt

      Justin,

      Please explain what adminstrative powers Councilmember Guidry has. How would her “decision” on anything but a vote in chambers mean anything? Seems to me the utimate authority in this case is Safety & Permits, and last I checked the city’s organizational chart, Ms. Guidry does not work for Safety & Permits.