Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rezone for a restaurant in Salemtown? Don't be dazed by the dream

So, there is this rumor floating around Salemtown and promoted by certain segments that a developer on the 1600 block of 6th Av North is trying to woo owners of East Nashville burger joint, bar, and beer garden The Pharmacy to open a second place in our neighborhood (or at least to woo a restaurant "like The Pharmacy"). The 6th Av property, like most of Salemtown, is zoned for residential, so the developer would have to rezone either for commercial or mixed-use if they come to an understanding with restaurateurs.

Screenshot of 1604 6th Av N & homes from Google Maps
The developers who bought 1604 6th Av N last summer are absentee. They are Oak Tree Partners LLC of Gallatin, TN. They were founded in 2011 and they flipped another holding in their own town into a liquor store. According to Next Door comments forwarded to me, Salemtown Works (a 501c3, not to be confused with Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association) president, Molly McCluer has corresponded with Oak Tree Partners. She encouraged neighborhood residents online to "lobby" The Pharmacy owners (the restaurant is owned by Terrell Raley) to open a restaurant in Salemtown. No word on which owners of restaurants "like The Pharmacy" are being so lobbied.

Now I don't question the value of having restaurants in higher density urban neighborhoods as long as there is careful planning and attention to traffic and parking impact and noise abatement. I have expressed support on this blog for a number of local businesses, including those that feature bars and restaurants. And we spend our money in these establishments to support them particularly because we appreciate the chance to walk rather than drive to do so.

But Salemtown sends the wrong signals to developers when we unquestioningly welcome them with open arms and no critical concerns. We send the wrong signals when we assume that, if we support a specific zoning change here, developers--especially absentee developers--will deliver the restaurants they float in front of our noses as wishful concepts to get their rezoning. We send the wrong signals when we appear to fall in love with their product and generally appear desperate for development when we should be asking developers to compromise to a win-win.

I live very close to the property that other people in my neighborhood who appear to live farther away want to see flipped into The Pharmacy. If I lived where they live I might want that dream, too. The reason I like going to the Pharmacy, besides the fare, is because it's across the river in East Nasty, and I do not have to worry about late-night bar closings near my property or noisy beer gardens.

But if this rezoning bobs to the surface, I will be contacting Mr. Terrell myself to ask about parking, traffic, his closing hours of 3am 7 days a week, and any amplified music played in a beer garden on top of the voices of dozens of customers on school nights. I see that he has a kid about my youngest kid's age, so he would probably understand why I would ask. I might even visit The Pharmacy late night with a decibel meter to measure the noise level myself.

Before I could support a bar and restaurant with outside service near my house on a property that is currently zoned residential, I would need assurances. And I have already talked to a couple of my neighbors who tell me they would need the same assurances. I bet I could find other neighbors who would be sympathetic, especially parents.

One online review of The Pharmacy indicates that parking is a problem in its East Nashville location. In 12South residents have been struggling with shrinking parking due to business growth for years, and the tensions came to a head in 2012. Following multiple meetings between 12South neighborhood association, the Belmont-Hillsboro Neighbors neighborhood association, and 12South businesses, affected residents have successfully navigated the parking permit application process to reserve street parking for themselves. They have a public hearing set with Metro Traffic and Parking Commission on March 11. I bet reserved on-street parking for residents will be approved.

Given that Salemtown has primarily on-street parking, support for residential permits is one thing among others that developers and business owners should be willing to give in order to get support for rezoning. One among others, like noise abatement.

Speaking of the impact of neighborhood businesses on parking, I meant to respond to Chris Chamberlain's observations about on-street parking in a Nashville Scene review of Germantown's Rolf and Daughters back in November. Chamberlain wrote:

Although Rolf and Daughters may seem to be in a remote location with no dedicated parking lot, intrepid diners will quickly realize that it is really only about a minute past the Nashville Farmers' Market and just a couple minutes from the interstate at the Rosa Parks exit. There is plenty of street parking on Taylor Street, so you shouldn't have to walk far to enjoy this new gem in the local restaurant crown.

I drove down Taylor tonight at rush hour, just before dinner time. I saw no ample on-street parking. There was ample parking if you were willing to walk at least a block to get to the place, because cars were choking both sides of the street (and what is the impact on residents who live on 7th Av off Taylor?). Taylor is so narrow that moving traffic is reduced to one squeezed lane when the ample parking spaces are occupied. Without traffic flaggers, two-way traffic on Taylor would be impossible on nights when Rolf and Daughters is slammed and on-street parking backfills for two or three blocks. Ample parking? Did Chamberlain closely look at the street before writing that?

All questions about traffic and parking impact and noise abatement must be soberly considered by Salemtown before we indulge ourselves in the seduction of developers' dreams.


  1. You're right. I've driven down Taylor several times since the restaurant has opened, and it does turn into a one way street with no particular direction when the joint is full. Which is almost always. But it is legal and within zoning regs as far as I can tell, and you'll notice that I wrote that piece before they opened, so it was really more of a "preview" than a "review."

    Salemtown is just starting to experience what 12South has suffered with for a few years now. Hopefully they can manage the growth.

  2. The parking around the Pharmacy/Holland House is horrible. If any of the residents in that neighborhood ever filed a complaint they would have to reduce the tables by half.

    On weekend nights it is even hard to walk on McFerrin.