Meeting to discuss proposed wine bar on Oak Street Thursday Aug. 13

MEETING: Thursday, August 13, 7 p.m., at the Parish Hall of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (corner of Carrollton and Zimpel—entrance on Zimpel, behind the church). Please plan to attend. Up for discussion:

Proposal for wine bar on Oak Street—We have a proposal by Ms. Katie Winters, a local attorney, to operate what she describes as a “high-end wine bar” at 8118 Oak Street, a large building in the first block of Oak on our side of Carrollton. The building was Driscoll’s Antiques before they moved down the street a few years ago and has been largely vacant since.

At our July board meeting, our CRNA board decided to hold an initial meeting with the most affected neighbors (those within a couple of blocks) and we did that on July 29. Notes from that meeting are below.

We also decided that our regular monthly meeting date—August 13, the “second Thursday”—would be devoted to broader neighborhood information sharing and input. I would describe this as a “listening session.” Our board is in the process of coming to a decision about supporting, opposing, or taking no position on the proposal.

Our ambition for this meeting is to update the neighborhood and to hear comments from neighbors/members of CRNA. We are not attempting to debate issues or to negotiate conditions with the developer.

The board will meet at a later date for its own internal debate and decision-making. But the board is GREATLY interested in the opinions/concerns/reactions of everyone in the neighborhood.

Please come join us (details at top)—even if you came to the meeting on the 29th, perhaps especially if you came to that meeting.

Briefly, at the meeting on the 29th, supporters, including several nearby neighbors, thought the project would bring an impressive renovation to an important building and that the proposed “wine bar” would be an adult establishment that would be a positive boost to the re-developing street. Opponents worried about encouraging a transformation of the street to an “entertainment district”—as well as issues like parking, noise, trash, etc. Many others simply expressed concerns without identifying themselves as supporters or opponents.
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Minutes of Carrollton/Riverbend Neighborhood Association (CRNA) meeting with the neighbors who would be most immediately impacted by the proposed wine bar at 8118 Oak Street.
–July 29, 2009, 7 p.m., 8118 Oak.

The purpose of the meeting was both to get information from Ms. Winters, the developer, and to get the response of immediate neighbors to her project. The CRNA board will decide the position of the association and convened this meeting as part of the process of reaching that decision as a board. After we circulated flyers in a two block area on the CRNA side of Carrollton, an anonymous person circulated flyers bearing the title “nomorebars.com” over a larger area. More than 100 people attended.

Jerry Speir provided background: We have had a lot of problems with “bars.” Within our own area, we have recently had complaints about The Frat House (formerly Jimmy’s); representatives of the neighborhood have met with the operators and we are cautiously optimistic that a commitment to increased security and increased communication with the neighbors will address problems as they arise and reduce them. Neighbors have complained that The Maple Leaf is too loud (and it has recently improved it’s sound-proofing). There have been problems at Madigan’s in the past (with bus loads of college students on the “bar tour.”) On Maple Street, between Broadway and Carrollton, neighbors have had serious problems associated with the concentration of bars there and their mostly younger clientele.

The Maple Street experience was primarily responsible for a “moratorium” on alcohol licenses in the greater Riverbend area (Oak, Maple and the Riverbend shopping area, essentially). The moratorium was passed by the City Council, at the behest of Councilwoman Midura and at the request of the neighborhood associations, including CRNA. The moratorium is not a ban, however. Rather it is another level of approval, requiring City Council approval—and ensuring that neighborhood associations at least have a say in all decisions about alcohol licenses. Moratoria also have time limits.

There has been such concern, in fact, about the relative ease with which “restaurants” can become “bars,” that we have been concerned about restaurants getting a liquor license, and have developed “Good Neighbor Agreements” with restaurants, with the intent to keep them from becoming bars. Those Agreements (with Jazmine Café and Saltwater Grill, for example) say that the parties (property owners, operators, and CRNA) agree that neither the liquor license nor the “conditional use” status granted for the property will transfer to a new owner or operator – that they must at least apply anew – and that they will abide by certain provisos regarding operating hours, clean-up of the property, and the like. The Agreements are recorded in the conveyance records and provide for a right to sue for their enforcement.

The present project has come to us, straightforwardly, as a bar—but arguing that it is a different kind of bar and proposing that it can address some of the neighborhood’s concerns through a Good Neighbor Agreement, similar to those that we have entered with restaurants. Specifically, Ms. Winters is willing to stipulate that neither the liquor license nor the conditional use status would transfer with a change of owner or operator, that no one under 21 would be admitted to the property, that the upstairs of the building would never be devoted to entertainment, and (not insignificantly) that she would pay CRNA’s legal fees if she later seeks to break the agreement.

In addition, she would commit to providing more additional parking spaces in the rear of the building than required by the parking regulations (6 vs. 3), to very high quality sound-proofing, to keeping the property clean and the dumpster out of sight. Any other specific provisions that might be included remain to be negotiated.

Julianna Padgett then moderated the dialogue/discussion. Ms. Winters and her architect made brief presentations, after which questions were raised, Ms. Winters was afforded an opportunity to answer, and participants were then invited to give brief “gut reactions” to the proposal.

Ms. Winters described herself as an attorney with roots in the neighborhood and experience in quality renovations of historic buildings. She described the proposed project as one that would appeal to adults (30-plus) and that she hoped those in attendance would want to patronize. Its focus would be wine—especially expensive wines by the glass. But she would also want to be able to offer cocktails and beer. She would also serve food—of the “small plate” variety—and a friend with training in Paris is working on the menu. And it would offer live music—which she described as “early music” (meaning an early start) of the piano bar or jazz combo variety. Her architect, Rick Fifield, described his experience with historic renovations—and with sound-proofing—as well as some of his vision for this particular renovation.

Questions raised included: hours of operation, the future of Blue Cypress Books (which building Ms. Winters would also be buying), outdoor seating, parking, valet parking, seating capacity, security, plans for the upstairs part of the building, video poker, and the number of employees.

Ms. Winters responded that she was still in discussion about hours of operation (previously she has expressed a desire to at least have the option of being open until 2 a.m. every night); that she intended for Blue Cypress Books to remain; that the plan (which she provided at the meeting) shows 83 seats, with 16 of those at 4 sidewalk tables; she has no plans to provide valet parking; there are no current plans to use the upstairs of the building (though she thought it might serve as a professional office, for an architect, for example, but any such use would require additional permitting); she foresees 5-6 employees at peak hours; she would employ a bouncer at all times; she has no plans to seek a video poker license (though she has previously expressed a preference not to commit to never seeking a video poker license), and that she would enforce a no smoking policy.

In the “gut reaction” period, a few opponents of the project expressed concerns about allowing an appeal of the moratorium and the possibility of Oak Street becoming an “entertainment district.” They also expressed concerns about parking, noise and trash.

Supporters, including a number of nearby neighbors, spoke of the value of renovating the building, noted that the clientele of such an establishment would be different from the clientele at current bars in the area, liked the general description of the establishment and thought it would be a positive boost to the street’s re-development.

Several others expressed no opinion.

–Prepared by Jerry Speir

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