If developers receive approval from the Jacksonville City Council next month, Riverside residents may soon have another dining option. Some see the proposed development as contradicting the area’s zoning practices, tantamount to an assault on the fabric of their neighborhood; others are thrilled to have another dining option steps away from their doors.
The proposed 150-seat restaurant, The Roost, will take over the location of the former Deluxe Laundry & Dry Cleaners in the 2200 block of Oak Street, between Osceola and Copeland streets near Five Points.
Developers for the group say they hope to offer a much-needed café to the area. Naysayers, though, call it an encroachment on the residential streets of Riverside.
Some Riverside residents are crying foul, saying a restaurant development jeopardizes the community’s unique character. As a result, these people have organized the growing group called Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development, otherwise known as PROUD.
“We are being trampled on,” said Jennifer Wolfe, who lives on Osceola Street, a short walk to the proposed business. “Whatever Anthony Saleeba wants, he gets.”
Saleeba is a longtime city developer whose projects include Snap Fitness, adjacent to the unit in question. He owns the Oak Street property, which is being developed by Ted Stein and J.C. Demetree. Attempts by Folio Weekly Magazine to reach Saleeba for comment were not successful. Along with PROUD, the Riverside Avondale Preservation, led by Nancy Powell, strongly objects to the proposed development.
“There is a small group that no matter what we did would push back against it,” Stein said. “But that is the great part of Riverside — everyone has an opinion and is proud of it. We have a different vision for the neighborhood.”
Both Stein and Demetree live five blocks from the Oak Street location.
The PROUD movement contends the restaurant flies in the face of years of zoning work to preserve residential streets in Riverside.
“This is checkerboard zoning,” Wolfe said.
At the recommendation of city planners, on March 17, the Planning Commission approved a planned unit development for the project, a change from its previous zoning of residential, office and commercial.
At that meeting, more than two dozen neighbors voiced opposition to the zoning change.
Wolfe said, “It’s just being shoehorned in.”
Wolfe continued, “They didn’t listen to a word we said.”
In response to Planning Commission’s action, PROUD has begun circulating a PowerPoint slideshow set to the tune of Chumbawamba’s 1997 hit, “I Get Knocked Down.” It’s the group’s most recent attempt to win residents over to its cause. (https://vimeo.com/159954571)
“I’m happy for new development in a [restaurant] hub area. Not a residential neighborhood,” posted San Marco yoga teacher Sarah Suero on the group’s Facebook page. “Not a [restaurant] outside my home with a full bar and live music until the wee hours of the morning. No.”
Suero’s comments seemed to reflect the ideology of Wolfe’s movement.
“It’s a great project,” Wolfe said. “I am not anti-development, just not here.”
Stein, though, said he isn’t planning on putting a nightclub in this historical residential area.
The restaurant, he explained, is focused on gourmet food and coffee. Bruschetta salads and Italian beef sandwiches will be a mainstay at The Roost. Pictures provided by Stein show the restaurant will be split into two sections.
“The really fun part of this is that even though we are one restaurant, we will be operating almost as two,” Stein said. “One side will be a full-service, big-city-diner-type feel, with the other side feeling like a living room meets a coffee shop.”
Stein added that his investment into the property is giving residents a place to congregate, an improvement to the eyesore that the structure has become.
Referring to one of a half-dozen complaints, Wolfe accused Stein of using a bait-and-switch method.
Wolfe said Stein proposed the project to the residents as a diner, but now she describes it as a nightclub.
“It’s insulting to us that they are lying to our faces,” she said.
The project has so far overcome every hurdle.
The city’s planning and development department recommended to the Planning Commission limiting the restaurant’s operating hours to 10 p.m. Also, the business would not be allowed to serve alcohol outside.
The Planning Commission, though, overturned both stipulations.
Jim Love, who sits on the City Council’s Land Use & Zoning Committee, said using a planning unit development in the situation of The Roost is not uncommon. Both Kickbacks on King Street and Mellow Mushroom on St. Johns Avenue needed similar approvals.
Love declined to indicate how he plans to vote. The Land Use & Zoning committee will hold a hearing on the matter April 19. The City Council is expected to make an up or down decision on April 26.
From there, unhappy parties could file an appeal in circuit court.
“Riverside is a lot of mixed-use,” Love said. “I think mixed-use is a great idea if it works.”
Love said he has offered to hold a conference for the residents and developers, but that hasn’t panned out.
“If neither side is willing to compromise, a meeting really isn’t profitable,” he said.
PROUD and RAP members are expected to continue to make their case until the final vote. Both resident groups were strongly opposed to the actions taken by the Planning Commission.
Nancy Powell, chair of RAP’s zoning committee, said the group is strongly concerned with allowing the restaurant to sell drinks and food outside.
“This alone will have a very adverse impact on the residents’ quality of life,” she said. “Zoning laws are in place for a reason, to provide predictability and stability for property owners, residents and businesses within a neighborhood.”