Despite some initial fears, proposed Government Street beer garden gets support of community, Planning Commission _lowres

 

It’s almost a guarantee that if a bar is planning to open too close to a residential neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish, the chambers of City Hall will be filled with opponents rallying against it.

But that’s just not the case on Government Street.

On Monday evening, residents and homeowners from Mid City — skewing a little younger than the average group of residents attending a municipal meeting — filled the council chambers and implored the Planning Commission to allow a proposed beer garden to open at the corner of Government and Steele Boulevard.

The proposed beer garden, which does not yet have a name, received approval for the necessary rezoning to allow a bar to operate. The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council will have the final vote next month.

The owners of the bar, who also run Radio Bar less than a mile down the street, came armed with a petition of 183 signatures indicating support for the project. They had letters of encouragement from the boards of neighboring civic associations in Capital Heights and Ogden Park. There were dozens of people in the audience who said they supported the concept.

No one spoke at the meeting to object to the bar.

Co-owners Dave Remmetter and Brian Baiamonte said they had established their record as good and valuable neighbors with Radio Bar, which they opened a few years ago, nestled in Ogden Park.

Since Radio Bar moved in, the average home price increased from $100 per square foot to almost $150 per square foot, and the average number of days a house sat on the market dropped from 120 to 40 days, Baiamonte said.

“I guess that indicates that’s a fairly desirable area,” he said. “I’m not saying we take credit for all of it, but I don’t think we hurt it at all.”

Residents who were attending the meeting and writing to the commissions said this project was emblematic of the kind of revitalization they want on Government Street — an area that is in the midst of many planned projects aimed at making it a thoroughfare more like New Orleans’ Magazine Street.

“Radio Bar is our neighbor,” wrote Lauren Lambert-Tompkins, Ogden Park Civic Association president. “They care about the revitalization of Mid City and they care about the people who live here. And, I really, really want to see this beautiful beer garden in Mid City.”

David Mooney, another Mid City resident, said the area supports businesses that improve walkability and community.

“This is another location to bind the neighborhood together,” he said. “I support it wholeheartedly.”

Ahead of the meeting, a few residents who live directly adjacent to the bar had expressed opposition to the project, fearing parking in front of their homes, increased traffic on their narrow, one-way streets and loud noise late into the night.

Corey Smith, who with his wife and young child lives across the street from the proposed bar, put his house on the market after hearing the news.

But he said that in recent weeks after meeting with the bar owners, he’s putting his trust in the beloved business owners who have promised to be good neighbors.

“We’re supporting them,” he said Monday night. “We have concerns, but we’re hoping they’ll work with us as they move along in the process. It’s one of those ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ scenarios.”

Only Planning Commission chairwoman Tara Wicker voted against the rezoning. She said, on principle, she could not support having a bar that close to a neighborhood because many of the low-income areas she represents suffer from the “oversaturation” of alcohol establishments. Wicker is also a member of the Metro Council, so she is likely to vote against the measure next month.

The property is a 1.2-acre lot and the bar is expected to be about 1,200 to 1,400 square feet. The bar owners say they will abide by parking laws but expect many of their customers to be visiting them on foot or bike, so that could cut down on traffic concerns.

They said they will address noise concerns by creating a variety of barriers in the form of natural vegetation, a wooden fence and a masonry wall.

If approved by the Metro Council, they said they hope to break ground in a couple months with construction lasting six to eight more months.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/city hallbuzz/ .