Jun 152016

Hillary Barq speaks to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, June 14. (via City of New Orleans)

Hillary Barq speaks to the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, June 14. (via City of New Orleans)

A request to sell packaged wine and liquor alongside sandwiches, ice cream and other sweets at proposed shop on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District was narrowly rejected by the City Planning Commission on Tuesday amid commissioners’ confusion about the proposed concept for the business and debate about its relationship with neighbors.

In an unrelated request, however, a once-controversial request to sell single beers at a corner store on Freret Street easily received a positive recommendation from the City Planning Commission without any opposition.

The building at 1302 Magazine Street has already received a $1 million facelift, said its owner Darlene Jacobs-Levy, in anticipation of the new business that Hillary Barq hopes to open there. The 23-year-old Barq, a member of the family that invented Barq’s root beer in Biloxi more than a century ago, said she plans to sell homemade ice cream and sandwiches in the shop with a cabinet for bottles of wine, scotch and other liquor.

“I want to bring the hustle and bustle down at the end of Magazine to the front of Magazine Street,” Barq said.

The City Planning Commission staff had mostly sided with Barq on her request, as long as the total cost of package liquor in the store remains less than 15 percent of the total goods for sale.

Neighbors, however, applauded the renovations on the building so far and the concept of a sandwich and ice cream shop, but opposed the inclusion of liquor sales and complained about Barq’s refusal to sign a good-neighbor agreement. The Coliseum Square Association had actually voted in March to support Barq’s plan after her tentative agreement to negotiating a good-neighbor agreement, but showed up Tuesday in opposition based on her refusal to follow through on the agreement.

“While I am excited about the business and plan to support it, plan to be there practically every day, I do not support a conditional use for a liquor license in that building, as we don’t know how long Ms. Barq will be in business there,” said Karon Reese, vice president of the Coliseum Square Association.

Banks McClintock said he is planning a business with alcohol sales in the same block, but he was told by City Councilwomen Stacy Head and LaToya Cantrell to start his process with a good-neighbor agreement. That process led to changes in his business plan, McClintock said, just as they did with every other successful new alcohol-serving establishment in the Lower Garden District in recent years.

“If I’ve done these things and all these other operators have done these things, why can’t another owner do the same thing?” McClintock asked.

Barq — who also owns the event venue in the former Cibugnu space on St. Charles Avenue in the Central Business District — said she didn’t trust the Coliseum Square Association in the negotiations, and preferred to simply abide by whatever provisos were set by the City Planning Commission and City Council.

“I trust the city of New Orleans much more than a neighborhood association,” Barq said. “As far as their opinion on limiting my business and capabilities for the future, I don’t feel like that’s fair. … I’m a lot younger than people on the board, so I’m going to be here for a long time.”

Many of the City Planning Commissioners described the request as a close call. Part of the problem, several said, was that the ice-cream/sandwich shop aspect doesn’t have an obvious relationship with the liquor sales. If it’s only going to be 15 percent of the retail goods in the store, they said, perhaps that suggests the alcohol is peripheral to the main business.

“I’m having little trouble envisioning and harmonizing the idea of jams and jellies and coffee and ice cream with packaged liquor for off-premises consumption,” said Commissioner Robert Steeg.

Other commissioners, however, said that the City Planning Commission has no role evaluating the business model of the proposals. Nor, they said, can it enforce good neighbor agreements, so whether or not Barq signed one should be irrelevant to the discussion.

“You may be getting some bad advice in not signing that good neighbor agreement,” said commissioner Nolan Marshall III. “Those are going to be your future customers. Those are going to be the people you have to live and work amongst in that neighborhood, and a good adviser may tell you to sign that good neighbor agreement. … [But] It’s not our place to say this business shouldn’t go forward with alcohol because we don’t quite get it.”

The commission’s vote was 5-4 against allowing the alcohol sales.

Afterward, the commission heard a separate request to modify the conditional-use for alcohol sales at Supermercado Las Acacias at 4929 Freret Street to allow the sale of single bottles. The same request has created heated discussion within the neighborhood in years past, but none of the opposition was present Tuesday before the City Planning Commission.

Owner Alba Sanabria said she had operated on the street for eight years now without incident, and Dean Gancarz-Davies of Freret Neighbors United said his group had voted overwhelming in favor of her request. City planners noted that the city’s master plan does not place any restrictions on the configurations of bottles in alcohol sales, and the City Planning Commission voted unanimously in favor of it without any discussion.

Both the City Planning Commission’s recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision.

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