Request for alcohol sales at Izzo’s Illegal Burrito splits city panel (live coverage)

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Izzo's Illegal Burrito on Magazine Street (April 2015 photograph by Google Maps)

Izzo’s Illegal Burrito on Magazine Street (April 2015 photograph by Google Maps)

The request by Izzo’s Illegal Burrito to sell beer and margaritas at their Magazine Street location split the City Planning Commission on Tuesday — even with tight restrictions on the operations there — so the New Orleans City Council will have to decide whether a restaurant considered “fast food” should be compatible with alcohol sales.

The Izzo’s presentation Tuesday largely followed what the restaurant had already submitted to the City Planning Commission prior to the meeting. They only intend to sell beer and margaritas, just as they do at 13 of their 15 other locations across the state — and the two that don’t are inside mall food courts. Alcohol only comprises about 5 percent of their sales, because most patrons only have a single drink with their food, so they don’t expect it to change the character of their restaurant on Magazine Street.

“My partner and I have gone to great lengths to make this concept family oriented,” said Gary Kovacs of Izzo’s, noting a family night on Monday.

Only a handful of neighbors spoke against the alcohol sales — and none in favor of it — unlike the written comments that drew more input from both sides. But Summer McKnight, president of the Touro-Bouligny Neighborhood Association, said her organization voted unanimously against it.

“I’ve heard nothing but opposition to this from my neighbors and residents,” McKnight said.

Nearby neighbor Kendra Reade said the layout of the parking lot could easily be reconfigured into a drive-through, and the next tenant of the property could be a drive-through daiquiri shop. More broadly, she said, the commission should reconsider granting alcohol sales to a fast-food restaurant.

“Jimmy John’s, Subway, all of these don’t need to have alcohol,” Reade said.

Ozzie Fernandez, a co-founder of the Izzo’s chain, countered that the Popeye’s in place previously closed in part because they weren’t allowed to put in a drive through, so no future tenant could, either. He also said that the city should do more to separate the growing “fast casual” sector of the restaurant industry — typically sit-down restaurants where food is cooked on site, but ordered at a counter instead of from a waiter — from fast food.

And ultimately, Fernandez said, the drinks simply go with the cuisine.

“It’s Mexican food. People like to have a beer. People like to have a margarita,” Fernandez said.

The members of the City Planning Commission were concerned by potential sale of alcohol combined with the fast-food classification of the restaurant, wondering if Popeye’s could sell alcohol there if it chose to return to the location. But city planners said that, as long as the underlying zoning allows it, fast-food restaurants could apply for permission to sell alcohol like standard restaurants are.

In fact, the reason that the issue rarely arises is that most fast-food restaurants just don’t have alcohol in their business models, not because of any blanket prohibition from the city, said planner Stephen Kroll.

“I’ve never been to a Burger King that sells alcohol,” Kroll said.

Commissioner Robert Steeg finally made a motion to approve the request, but said what most concerned him was the possibility that a more alcohol-oriented business could one day replace Izzo’s. Thus, he proposed a number of additional conditions to make that less likely — alcohol could not exceed 15 percent of sales, it could only be beer, wine or margaritas, no bar could be built inside, no go cups could be used, and alcohol sales must only be sold for on-premises consumption.

That compromise drew a 4-3 vote from the commission, one vote shy of the five needed to issue a recommendation from the City Planning Commission for approval. Instead, they will forward the issue to the full City Council for a final decision without a recommendation either way.

See below for live coverage.

Live Blog City Planning Commission – June 23, 2015

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