VOL. 132 | NO. 83 | Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Council Wants Railgarten Permit Delay as OPD Recommends Rejection
By Patrick Lantrip
The Memphis City Council wants the Board of Adjustment to delay any decision Wednesday, April 26, on a special permit for Railgarten for a month while the council sorts out what the controversial resident had permission to open and what it didn’t have permission to open.
The council approved a resolution Tuesday urging the delay on a 10-0 vote the day before the restaurant is set to plead its case before the Board of Adjustment
Council Chairman Berlin Boyd cited “parking problems and complaints” as the reason behind the resolution and read a long list of businesses on Central Avenue that have complained about the traffic and noise from the business.
If not delayed, City Council attorney Allan Wade said the case could go to Chancery Court in a potential clash over which bodies should act on the development first.
"You can't bypass us by going to the Board of Adjustment," he told representative of the restaurant.
“The Board of Adjustment is not elected, you are elected,” Wade advised the council noting that council members were fielding the complaints from constituents moreso than the Board of Adjustment.
Meanwhile, the Office of Planning and Development’s staff recommendation is to reject Railgarten’s Conditional Use Permit to incorporate metal shipping containers in its design.
The OPD staff report also shed some light on the order in which the business got approval and then opened.
“Since the approval of the restaurant/bar with indoor recreation, the applicant introduced a change of use on the rear portion of the property adjacent to the railroad to allow a bar/tavern with metal shipping containers in conjunction with the land use at 2164 Central Avenue to be used for an outdoor entertainment venue,” the OPD staff report said. “The placement and installation of metal shipping containers to be used in conjunction with the outdoor venue triggers the land uses permitted and designated frontage standards of the Midtown District Overlay.
“It’s a very complicated issue and its personal for a lot of us,” said Brenda Solomito-Basar, the representative for the developers. “We’ve all made mistakes.”
Railgarten and another proposed restaurant concept called The Liquor Store on Broad Avenue both applied to incorporate shipping containers in their design at the end of March.
However, less than a week later, Railgarten opened prior to receiving approval from the Board of Adjustment and code enforcement officers responded by shutting down portions of the restaurant that were not in compliance until the matter could be sorted out at the April 26 hearing.
Representatives from Railgarten issued a statement citing “confusion” over the use of the containers.
“The containers reinforce the physical connection to the neighboring rail line, importance of transportation to the neighborhood, and offer outlets for local visual and musical artists,” it read in part. “Our legal counsel and land use consultant advised us the land is zoned for light industrial use; one of the few zoning categories where the use of shipping containers and outdoor entertainment is allowed by right. This zoning was primary in our consideration and selection of the Railgarten site.”
“We were looking for a space that was zoned for light industrial because we had this vision in mind of using unique items to create this outdoor space,” Railgarten co-owner Martha Hample told the Daily News after the statement was released.
“It was zoned for light industrial, which allows for the use of shipping containers and that’s the way we interpreted it. The OPD doesn’t interpret it quite the way we did, so that’s where the issue came up,” she went on to say.
The statement also addressed the issue of overflow traffic.
“Following the overwhelming turnout of our opening weekend we simply had more customers than available parking,” it continued. “We’re working with area businesses to lease additional parking lots and have contracted a private security company to assure our visitors are safe and the neighborhood clean.”
Parking was also a major concern in the OPD’s staff report.
“This land use cannot provide adequate parking facilities within this area of Midtown without interfering with adjacent properties for such an outdoor venue and cannot be arranged and operated to be compatible with the immediate area.
The report went on the say that even if the shipping containers were removed, parking would still be an issue.
Multiple letters of both support and opposition were included in the report from surrounding neighbors and business owners were seemingly split down the middle. Proponents praised the venue’s unique use of materials and efforts of rehab a blighted property, while detractors cited the residential noise issues and the area’s unwieldy parking situation.
Senior Reporter Bill Dries contributed to this story.