MAC Realty, the building's owner, is the requesting party and is acting on behalf of restaurant owners in the building, who initiated the request. The present zoning, B.1-5 would be changed to B.3-5. The change would allow the restaurants to apply for liquor licenses; if the licenses are granted, the restaurants could serve alcoholic beverages along with meals. In theory, the change would also allow the building to house a tavern, but that would require a further special approval process.
Under the revised zoning, veterinarians would be allowed to operate on the property. I found this interesting (although not necessarily indicative of future activity), in light of recent news coverage of Dr. Wake's need to relocate his veterinary clinic out of Harper Court.
Peter Cassell, of MAC, and the Alderman presented the zoning request as a step toward enhancing the retail options in Hyde Park, by helping to improve the business climate. The attendees at the meeting seemed generally in favor of the change, and Cassell said a number of the building's apartment residents were in favor.
One resident, however, worried aloud that there would be noisy drunks staggering out of the restaurants at all hours. Oh, c'mon. In response, it was noted that the restaurants presently allow diners free BYOB privileges, so drinking already takes place on the premises and no problems have been reported. Further, a restaurant can limit the amount of alcohol sold to and subsequently consumed by individuals; limiting consumption under BYOB is much harder.
Someone else said the change would exacerbate the "parking problem," and the meeting then lapsed into the classic Hyde Park "parking problem discussion." C'mon again. Those restaurants are largely patronized by people who arrive on foot, and anyway there is no reason to expect that more people will drive just because they can have a cold beer with their meal.
After a while, the Alderman simply laid it out (yet one more time): She said we live in a crowded city, and there are more cars than will fit at the curb. She said that all the studies and committees are not going to change that fact. She said further that there is no place in the neighborhood to build large-capacity off-street parking, and experience has shown that people don't want to pay to use it. My (uncharacteristically caustic?) comment to the group was, "Free parking is not a God-given right."
Hairston then returned to the zoning question and said, in effect, "Look, folks, everyone complains about having to leave the neighborhood in order to spend their money. This proposal is a way to change some of that."
I'm glad Hairston came on strong on the parking and zoning issues.
The process will probably take a few months;there has to be a formal application, notice to people living within 250 feet of the property, consideration by the city zoning committee, approval by the full city council. Then the proprietors have to obtain liquor licenses (which can be revoked in the event of abuse or inappropriate customer behavior).
This, by the way, is strictly a zoning request; it has nothing to do with wet/dry precincts under "local option."
That's the essential content of the meeting, which lasted an hour and 20 minutes. One more interesting tidbit did come out: Under both present and proposed zoning, the building could be up to 100 feet high; it isn't even half that tall.