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.