“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.