City Council on Oct. 9 voted unanimously to overrule the Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, and to change the zoning of a parcel of land adjacent to Twiggs Park back to commercial from residential and approve its special use as a Type-2 restaurant. The vote was a victory for Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who championed the project as an example of economic development long needed in the ward.
As was the case at the joint Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals meeting that recommended denial of both the zoning change and special use, former elected officials lined up to oppose the restaurant. Former City Clerk Rodney Greene gave a laundry list of reasons – traffic, trash, rodents, and lack of notice.
Former Fifth Ward alderman Delores Holmes first said she opposed bundling the zoning change and special use application into one hearing and focused only on the zoning change. “You all know what happens when you mess with zoning,” she said. The approximately 80-year old building on the property, a commercial building, was used as a series of businesses until it was rezoned residential in 2000, according to staff materials. It has sat vacant since the zoning change.
Former Mayor Lorraine Morton sat in the crowd but did not speak, though she voiced her opposition to the changes at the joint Plan Commission/Zoning Board meeting held a few weeks before.
The Planning and Development Committee was not swayed by the opposition. “One thing that happens when you change zoning is you disinvest,” said Ald. Simmons. “The only thing that happened” when the zoning changed to residential “was it stopped development,” she said.
Ald. Rue Simmons also took aim at the detractors. “Some of the reasons” brought forth “against it are really embarrassing,” she said. Such reasons include the fact the restaurant will serve shish kabobs and not rice and beans, the possibility that the restaurant or its trash might attract mountain lions, the potential that the restaurant might bring people from outside the ward to Twiggs Park, and that the restaurant would be too close to the park.
“We tried residential. It didn’t work,” Ald. Rue Simmons said.
“I think over a long period of time there were some missed opportunities,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, referring to at least one zoning change denial several years ago. The current proposed restaurant “seems like an interesting opportunity to me,” he added.
“I’m supporting this,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. “I want to welcome you and thank you,” she added, speaking to the property owner and restaurateur Arkady Kats.
Mr. Kats has been attacked by residents over the course of his efforts to get the restaurant use approved, said Ald. Rue Simmons. Residents have “verbally abused him,” she said.
There is plenty of support from the community, however, several aldermen said. “I personally got several emails” in support of the project, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
James Engelman, a resident of the nearby Over the Rainbow’s Hill Arboretum Apartments at 2040 Brown Ave., spoke in favor of the project both at the Planning and Development Committee and City Council. “It would be a blessing for people to go there,” he said, saying it would be easy for wheelchair-bound residents to get to and enjoy the restaurant, and a “chance to get out and mingle with residents of the ward.”
The matter was introduced on the consent agenda at the Sept. 25 Council meeting. On Oct. 9, three residents appeared at Citizen Comment speaking against the restaurant, but none of them swayed Council. The matter passed on the consent agenda, that is, without Council discussion.