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Strong turnout for public meeting

Nearly 50 neighbors turned out to discuss the proposed plans to redevelop the church at Fatherland Ave. and N.17th St into a restaurant and boutique hotel.

Councilman Brett Withers hosted the meeting at the Shelby Community Center on Wednesday night and explained various zoning options to the crowd. Developer John Donelson, who now owns the church, fielded a wide range of questions from the crowd but many expressed concerns about increased noise, traffic, and parking in the neighborhood.

Here is what happened at the meeting:

We began by welcoming Brett to the meeting as our CM. He then explained the history of the zoning at 17th and Fatherland as part of the 5 Points Redevelopment Plan and the current uses allowed in this location, which include many commercial enterprises.

Brett pointed out that this  conversation is one that we will likely have many more times since we have many churches in historic buildings that are gradually losing numbers and thus financial support. We have to ask ourselves, “do we think the building is worth preserving?” and “what concessions are we willing to make to the developer in order to get the things we want?”.

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District 6 Councilman Brett Withers, right.

Some clarification questions were asked:
Q– if the Neighborhood Landmark is applied, does the current commercial zoning go away?
A– No. the Landmark Overlay allows some control and limits on things like hours, signage, screening, etc. The base zoning remains in effect.
Q– Are the public hearings genuine? Will the neighbors concerns be heard?
A– Yes, neighborhood support is a part of the process. the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and there will be a public hearing at City Council on the second reading.  I (Brett) want to hear from neighbors before the plan goes to planning so that we can present an acceptable plan to them in the first place.

Gina Emmanuel, architect for the project, explained the plan as it currently exists. The restaurant will be approximately 5000 square feet, there will be a roof deck with two offices that cannot be seen from the street per MHZ, and 10 boutique hotel rooms in the 1951 addition. The event space was removed after two public meetings when the neighbors expressed concerns about this portion of the plan. In order to park this use, John Donelson has an agreement with the owner of the lot behind the church facing 17th. With the Neighborhood Landmark zoning tool, he can build a parking lot there with 16 spaces. It will be highly screened so that cars and car lights are not visible from the street. The lot will be environmentally friendly with some sort of pervious pavers.

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Church at Fatherland Ave. and N. 17th St.

Gina explained that current codes require a certain number of spaces for each use. The restaurant must have 32 spaces and the hotel must have 11 for a total of 43. Because the property is in an area with contiguous sidewalks and public transit, a 20% reduction is allowed by code.  This reduces the number of spaces the developer is required to have to 35. If we subtract the 16 spaces they will build on the lot behind the church, that means they must have 19 additional spaces. John Donelson has reached an agreement with the church at 17th and Shelby for 25 spaces, exceeding the required number by 6 spaces. He is also in discussion with Liberty Baptist for an additional 20 spaces.

Q-How are the spaces designated? Will a certain number be reserved for employees? Hotel guests?
A-We are seeking the spaces at this point. We have not designated them yet, but that might be a next step.
Q-Why did you eliminate the event space and not the restaurant?
A (Elizabeth Smith)- the overwhelming response at the two previous meetings was that the event space would be too disruptive to the neighbors. Even if it is fewer days per month, the potential for serious noise problems is greater. The neighbors cited the problems with the two other similar spaces in Historic Edgefield and East End as evidence that this type of use in a residential area was unacceptable.
Several people interjected here the problems that traffic and parking will bring no matter what growth occurs. Some complained about the narrowness of 17th at that corner and the current issues there, and Brett suggested that parking on only one side of the street could be mandated.  Brett reminded the group that the questions the planning department will ask are, “can they park it?” and “is there community support?”.
Gina explained that, although allowed to count two street spaces, they were not doing so.
John Donelson explained that his discussions with planning have centered on parking. They prefer the Neighborhood Landmark because it allows the parking without a policy change.
Brett reiterated that an SP would erase the base zoning and that the Neighborhood Landmark must have a use plan that stays with the property. If the conditions of the use plan change, the owner must go back to the planning department to work out the problem. So, if parking goes away the plan has to be revised.
These comments were made:
  • Some are extremely opposed to the event space
  • Some like the event space because the impact is more limited.
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    Going over the plans after the meeting.

  • Some think a restaurant of this size will be very disruptive in terms of traffic, parking, smells, etc.
  • Some are very supportive of a restaurant and think it will add to the neighborhood.
  • There did not seem to be any objection to the boutique hotel. Many like the idea and think it will have the least impact on the neighborhood.
  • John Donelson was asked if there is any other possible use that would save the building but
    not bring traffic and parking problems to the corner.
  • Overall, many neighbors fear a change in the culture of the street and want a use that will keep this change minimal.
  • Some think that getting resident parking permits is a good idea. I express concern that this just pushes the problem out; it does not solve the problem.
  • Some express support for the idea of bringing new people, and their dollars, into the neighborhood.
  • Tourism is good for the city in more than just dollars. It brings new ideas and new people and that is a good thing.
  • Neighbors don’t want to lose the ability to park in front of their homes.
  • Some would like to see more hotel rooms.
  • Is this inevitable or are there other options?
Brett asked John what his timeline is. John would like to file his application within 30 days. He is ready to move forward but is willing to hear what neighbors say.
Brett would like for neighbors to respond within two weeks at which time he will look at the responses and decide how to proceed. He will work through LSNA, but individuals are welcome to spread the word.

-Elizabeth Smith, president@lockelandsprings.org