After about eight months of negotiations and a new owner, a vacant auto repair shop at 5054 Old Shell Road will be redeveloped into a restaurant. The application gained approval of three variances from the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment on Monday, March 5.

More than 140 Spring Hill residents had banded together in opposition to the property’s previous development plans, announced in July of last year. Then, owner Shaul Zislin, of The Hangout in Gulf Shores, had proposed a restaurant with more than 80 seats and an 11 p.m. closing time.

New owners Todd and Jeff LaCour proposed another restaurant, but promised a smaller, less noisy experience. In fact, the building’s planned tenant, Maple Street Biscuit Company, only serves breakfast and lunch, Todd LaCour said.

“We’re extremely excited for this development,” he said. “It’s a total renovation of the building; 1,500-square feet with an open kitchen concept. It’ll be the perfect place … to enjoy a meal.”

The former Rester Brothers property across from Lavretta Park is currently an “eyesore” and is “blighted,” he said.

In the application, Todd LaCour said they were asking the board for a use variance, which would allow for the restaurant in the old garage space.
“Another service station is not what the neighborhood needs,” he said.

The LaCours also asked the board to approve a permeable, “crushed gravel” parking surface to avoid making drainage problems in the area worse. The final variance will excuse them from building a wall along Border Drive. Without the buffer, Todd LaCour said the property would have enough space for two additional parking spots.

In spite of Maple Street Biscuit Company’s hours, the LaCours also sought approval to allowing any restaurant operating at the location to stay open to 11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, if they desired. Todd LaCour said Maple Street has shown some interest in serving an evening meal and having brunch in the future.

The restaurant will not have live music, he said.

A number of nearby residents supported the variances, including Kellie Myers. Despite living some 300 feet from the property and leading a Lavretta Park enhancement project, Myers told the board she supports the proposal because it would benefit the community.

Myers spoke in favor of the previous applicant as well and added the 1,779 signatures she collected in support of it to this new project.

“While we understand you have many factors to consider, we felt residents were being held hostage … by a minority of the neighborhood,” she said. “A majority supports this application. Residents of Spring Hill want this change.”

Despite the new owners and assurances there would be no live music at the proposed site, residents still shared their concerns over the hours the LaCours requested.

Steve Nicholas suggested the restaurant be forced to close at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. Otherwise, Nicholas said he had no problem with it.

“This proposal will be great,” he said.

In addition to the hours, Virginia Tanner said she had concerns over fencing that would be used as a buffer. She called the requests to close at 9 p.m. “reasonable.”

“The time of 11 p.m. is much too late for our area,” she said. “No other business (around) is open and pumping at 9 p.m.”

After hearing the complaints, Todd LaCour said the owners were willing to compromise. He asked the board to allow the restaurant to be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

Maple Street Biscuit Company, out of Jacksonville, Florida, has locations all over the southeast, Todd LaCour said, following the meeting. The restaurant will be a great place for families to join for meals in the future, he said.

“We live in the area,” he said. “The neighbors wanted something there and this will be a huge improvement for the area.”

Photo courtesty of Dakinstreet Architects.