City leaves decision on District Donuts proposal to sell alcohol to City Council
With a 3-2 split, the City Planning Commission voted to recommend that District Donuts on Harrison Avenue be eligible as a specialty restaurant and able to pursue a conditional use permit to sell alcohol. The staff made a decision ahead of possible legislation on the zoning matter and a lawsuit filed from a resident.
After the Board of Zoning Adjustments did not have enough votes to deny District Donuts on Harrison Avenue to sell alcohol, an appeal was filed in Civil District Court by a neighbor that lives across the street from the business, Gary Savelle. Savelle had previously filed an appeal to the Department of Safety & Permits against District Donuts being able to apply to sell alcohol as a specialty restaurant on Harrison Avenue. He filed another appeal in Civil District Court, after the Board of Zoning Adjustments voted to say that the Department of Safety & Permits made an error in their decision and that it should be overturned, but the vote resulted in a 3-2 split.
Savelle spoke before the City Planning Commission on Monday, Sept. 11.
“If they start serving alcohol, you’re opening a Pandora’s box,” Savelle said. “You’re going to have unlimited alcohol on Harrison Avenue, if you allow this to go forward.”
Stephen Cali, one of the owners of District Donuts, explained why he and his co-owner want to sell alcohol at their restaurant and how they were met with a lot of opposition. Besides answering the demand from customers, Cali said the owners are seeking to increase their revenue to make up for the living wage they pay their employees, approximately $10 an hour.
“Alcohol in our other locations is less than 1 percent of sales,” Cali said. “If we can get a 1% sales bump, for us it’s worth while,” Cali said.
Cali said that since meeting with the community, the District Donuts owners have done walks around the business on Harrison Avenue to lookout for trash and litter neighbors were concerned with. Cali said they have also come up with a compromise for selling alcohol at the business.
“We’re putting forth, in good faith, a good neighbor agreement,” Cali said.
One of the four points of that agreement include a conditional use agreement being rescinded if the business is sold in the future.
“Number two is there will never be a happy hour, Cali said. “Our goal is not to be a beer garden; it’s not to be a bar.
The last two points of the agreement is that business hours will not be changed and that District Donuts will limit the alcohol selection to two beers on draft. They won’t sell liquor or wine and will be working with local breweries to provide some of their options.
“They (customers) come in and they’d like some beer with their dinner,” Cali said. “They think brew is beer, and they ask for it. So we’d like to be able to serve that customer in the future.”
The District Donuts owners said they are willing to put in place a fifth point in their agreement, in order to be good neighbors.
The chairman of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association’s zoning committee spoke in opposition of the conditional use permit.
Jackie Clarkson, the author of the New Orleans Master Plan, came to speak in opposition of the specialty restaurant being able to receive a conditional use permit. Clarkson expressed how Lakeview rebuilt itself after Hurricane Katrina and how the area wished to have its current type of zoning to encourage its thriving as a family-friendly neighborhood.
“This is a specialty restaurant, and in this middle district, there was not to be any specialty restaurants with alcohol,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson said District Donuts being eligible for a conditional use permit would be a clear violation. Both the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association zoning committee chairman and some of its members came to the meeting and agreed with Clarkson’s view.
After much discussion, the City Planning Commission decided to vote on the District Donuts’ proposal under the current circumstances brought before them, and they concluded on 3-2 split for recommending the allowance of a conditional use permit for alcohol.
According to City Planning Commission, legislation authored by Susan Guidry will be brought before the City Council on Thursday, Sept. 14 to clarify the specific zoning issues concerning Harrison Avenue and standard or specialty restaurants. The legislation and the District Donuts proposal will both be items going before City Council Thursday.