A zoning change request that would allow Sammy’s Grill on Highland Road to pave more parking spaces was deferred Wednesday by the Metro Council to give the business owner time to reach an agreement with neighbors who opposed the plan.
The council deferred the item for a month because several members said they felt the request was going to be rejected and did not want business owner Sammy Nagem to have to restart the process to expand his parking space.
Dozens of residents living in the area surrounding Sammy’s attended the council’s zoning meeting, the last stop for parish zoning changes after they are vetted through the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Nagem requested rezoning a portion of land outside of his restaurant from A1 Single Family Residential to an Infill/Mixed Use Small Planned Unit Development.
This would allow him to provide a route behind the restaurant near Kimbro Drive, making it easier for patrons to enter and exit the business with their vehicles.
The plan also would provide for up to 45 additional parking spots to complement the 78 existing spots. Magnolia Woods Civic Association President Sam Martin, and several residents who spoke to the council Wednesday, said the change amounted to “commercial encroachment” into a residential area.
Residents complained the proposed parking lot would extend the restaurant’s footprint against the residential area.
Martin also said the plan went against the recommendations of the FutureBR land use plan, which was only recently approved by the council and cost $2 million to develop.
He said approving the restaurant parking changes would be “like sending a brand new Lexus to the junk yard before you ever got a chance to drive it.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission sent the item to the council with a positive recommendation, but several council members expressed agreement with the residents’ concerns.
“I do have significant concerns about rezoning from residential to commercial,” said Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards, who said she would not support the zoning change.
“Moving further into their neighborhood leads to additional traffic, additional noise and additional public safety issues.”
Councilwoman Alison Gary also said she would vote against the item because it was not consistent with the FutureBR land use plan.
“Given that it’s a brand new plan, now is a very important time in its life,” Gary said. “People need to trust it for many years to come and it wouldn’t be seen as a trustworthy plan if we went forward with this (zoning change).”
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker made a motion to defer the item for one month to give Nagem the option of trying to reach a compromise with residents, rather than outright killing the item.
The council voted 8-2 to defer the item.
Voting in favor of deferring the item were council members Walker, Gary, Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Donna Collins-Lewis, C. Denise Marcelle, Joel Boé and Tara Wicker.
Councilman Chandler Loupe and Edwards voted against deferring.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison was absent and Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois abstained because he owns a restaurant nearby that competes with Sammy’s.
BRIDGE IMPROVEMENTS: In other business Wednesday, the council’s Finance and Executive Committee recommended approval of a $900,000 allocation for bridge improvements.
Mayor-President Kip Holden agreed late last month to reallocate the funds from another stalled riverfront project in exchange for the council’s support of the disputed stage canopy in Galvez Plaza.
The deal was struck between Holden and Walker behind the scenes of the Sept. 28 council meeting, which ended early for loss of a quorum.
Loupe said Wednesday he would support the funds, as long as they were not promised to any specific council member as part of a quid pro quo deal in a particular district.
“No one has told you where to apply this money?” Loupe asked city-parish staff.
Interim Public Works Director William Daniel responded that the funds had not yet been appropriated.
“We’re non-council oriented when it comes to fixing bridges,” Daniel said. “It’ll go to where bridges need the most money.”
The full council is expected to vote on the issue at the Oct. 26 meeting.