The developer of a proposed restaurant near Lavretta Park in Spring Hill will have more time to convince neighbors or the project’s merits after the Board of Zoning Adjustment delayed a vote on a variance for it at its July 10 regular meeting.
On Monday, the board voted unanimously to hold over the application submitted by Shaul Zislin, owner of the Hangout in Gulf Shores. Zislin is aiming to turn the Rester Brothers body shop at 5054 Old Shell Road into a new restaurant.
Courtney Brett, the architect on the project, cited environmental concerns from the lot’s previous use as one of the reasons the board was asked for a use variance that would allow a “small, neighborhood restaurant” at the location, which is in a residential district.
“It’s going to be a re-use of the garage with a modern kitchen and bathrooms,” Brett told the board.
The proposal includes 80 seats inside and as many as 80 seats outside, she said, with the ability to open the doors of the garage.
In addition to on-site parking, Brett said there are also plans for additional parking across Old Shell Road, adding that both lots are currently under contract.
“We think it’s a nice middle ground for what we’re asking for,” she said. “We’re hoping to be a good neighbor.”
Residents who live near the proposed site came to the meeting both in support and opposition of the proposal.
Supporters, like Kellie and Thomas Myers, felt a restaurant would enhance the neighborhood and provide “smart growth” for the area. Local attorney Dean Waite said he and several neighbors were excited about being able to walk to the venue once it opens.
However, attendees claiming to represent more than 140 residents spoke in opposition of the proposal on Monday — citing issues with increased traffic, parking and noise concerns.
Dr. Phillip Madonia first questioned the legal authority of the board to vote on what he said was essentially a rezoning of the property because the use variance would allow commercial activity on residential property. Madonia also questioned the description of the restaurant as “small” when it could potentially have 160 seats, a majority of them outside.
“This is hardly a small neighborhood cafe,” he told the board.
He also brought up the restaurant’s proposed operating hours, which are expected to run 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends — not “neighborhood friendly hours,” according Madonia.
Patricia Clark said she’s worried about increased traffic along an already busy Old Shell Road as well as ambient noise from the restaurant.
“The restaurant would be open from 11 to 11 on weekends,” Clark said. “Our kids go to bed at 7 or 8 at night.”
Clark also cited concerns over the safety of children at Lavretta Park, especially if patrons are allowed to park vehicles in and around the area. While Clark admitted the body shop property isn’t ideal at such a close proximity to their neighborhood, she said the proposed restaurant is isn’t the only option, either.
At the earliest, a decision could be reached at the board’s Aug. 7 meeting, though it could be delayed further if the outlying issues aren’t resolved by then. Board members have asked both sides to get together and work toward compromise in the meantime.