A Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant proposed for Oak Street garnered the initial support of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association this week, although they took issue with a plan to convert some of the corridor’s scarce off-street parking into an outdoor dining area.
James Son and his two partners in the venture have the two-story building at the corner of Dante Street under contract, and plan this fall to open a new location of the growing Mellow Mushroom pizza franchise, known for a hippie-style decor that caters to both a college crowd and young families. In part because of the need for a large kitchen space, Son said, the restaurant plans to convert part of its rear parking area into an outdoor dining area. The space will be partly enclosed to protect neighbors’ privacy, similar in concept to outdoor areas at Martinique Bistro or St. Joe’s bar on Magazine, Son said, but no plans have been drawn up.
While the premise of the restaurant drew little direct opposition from the crowd of 30 or so members of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association, parking was an issue. The restaurant could seat as many as 120 people, depending on the size of the kitchen, but is not required by the city to add any parking. The developers said they hope that the restaurant will draw foot and bicycle traffic from the neighborhood and the nearby universities, and that the customers will be spread out through dining hours, rather than all coming at once as they do for yoga classes.
Those assurances were not readily accepted by neighbors, especially in light of the plan to reduce the amount of parking space currently associated with the building.
“Personally I’d rather see tables on the sidewalk or on the balcony than in the back,” said Jerry Speir, who often handles negotiations with new businesses for the association. “I think taking away the few parking spaces you have and turning it into a nuisance for your neighbors is a bad idea.”
The association ultimately voted 7-3 to tell the restaurant they oppose converting parking spaces into a dining area. Association president Anne Nicolay, who lives on Oak Street, was among those in favor of the tables.
“The more people you have on Oak Street, the less crime you have,” Nicolay said. “To me, as a resident, I like to see a lot of people on Oak Street. I feel safer.”
The association also had questions about the restaurant’s desire for live music. They agreed that the current plan for unamplified musicians accompanying dinner inside was acceptable, but were concerned that if Mellow Mushroom did not succeed, they would be left with an empty building with pre-existing permits for alcohol sales and live music — in other words, a recipe for a new nightclub.
That issue, they decided, could likely be handled in the good-neighbor agreement that Speir will negotiate with the business owners. The association has agreements that cover issues like hours and litter with most of the restaurants that have opened on Oak Street in the last year — including Oak wine bar, Tru Burger, Cowbell and others — and the board voted 10-0 to proceed with a similar agreement with Mellow Mushroom.
The discussion about Mellow Mushroom led to a broader conversation about creating a better process for handling negotiations with businesses that need conditional uses for alcohol sales or other exceptions to zoning rules in the neighborhood. At the association’s annual meeting May 22, they plan to draft a committee to begin work on a clearer set of guidelines to be published on the association website, so businesses will know what neighbors expect.
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