EBR council rejects rezoning for bar near Southdowns

The owners of the Time Out Lounge, who lost their bar on Old Hammond Highway to a fire, suffered another setback Wednesday when the Baton Rouge Metro Council rejected a rezoning request that would have allowed them to reopen at a new location just off Perkins Road.

The council sided with surrounding neighborhood groups that overwhelmingly opposed another bar locating across the road from their homes in the Southdowns subdivision.

The council also sided with neighborhood groups for another issue on Jefferson Highway at Bluebonnet Boulevard, where the property’s owners wanted to build a RaceTrac gas station. Home owners in the area urged the council to consider the detrimental impact a 24-hour gas station would have on the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

The Time Out Lounge operated for seven years as a neighborhood bar before it burned down, eliminating owners Kathleen and Jay Byers’ sole source of income.

They wanted to reopen the bar on Valley Street, behind Bin Q, formerly Cuban Liquor, which required a zoning change from light industrial to CAB-2, the commercial alcoholic beverage designation for bars.

“We’re not asking to add CAB-2 to the city, we’re just trying to locate the one we had,” Kathleen Byers said. “The location proposed is not in the middle of a residential area but across five lanes of traffic in an already commercial area.”

Residents in the Southdowns neighborhood have staunchly opposed the addition of new bars in the area and spoke against allowing the rezoning.

William Gladney, president of the Southside Civic Association, told the council that when The Bulldog opened, the association negotiated to have bar zoning removed from another area in the development to compensate.

Similarly, when Uncle Earl’s expanded its bar footprint this year, the bar zoning for the area that once housed The Caterie was removed to ensure there was no net gain for bars.

“We want to limit the bars on the north side of Perkins Road in our neighborhood,” said Carole Anne Brown, another Southdowns resident. “Ms. Byers, you sound like you had a wonderful place and I hope you can get back in the neighborhood that you were in.”

Councilman John Delgado, whose district encompasses the proposed bar rezoning, said he received hundreds of messages from neighbors opposing the bar, and couldn’t go against their wishes.

The council voted, 8-2, to reject the rezoning. Council members Ryan Heck and Chauna Banks-Daniel supported the bar; Chandler Loupe and Ronnie Edwards were absent from the vote.

“These people got burned down and I believe they have a right to be in business,” Heck said before casting his vote.

Kathleen Byers said in an interview after the meeting that she was disappointed because the rejection would further delay their ability to reopen and start earning income again. But, she said, other property owners have reached out in recent days to offer potential alternative locations.

In the other case, the council voted unanimously on Wednesday to reject a rezoning to allow a 5,900-square-foot RaceTrac convenience store and gas station.

Residents in the area lined up to express their concerns about the crime, increased traffic, noise and light associated with a 24-hour gas station located adjacent to their properties.

Local lawyer Kent Parsons spoke on behalf of his mother, who lives in a condo located across the street from the proposed gas station.

“For her to have head lights in and out of her bedroom all of the time, particularly at night, this is going to devastate her property value,” he said.

Katie Martinez, another homeowner in the neighboring area, pulled crime statistics from the Sheriff’s Office for a nearby CVS to demonstrate that 24-hour operations attract criminal activity. She said in the last 18 months, there were 244 incidents that the Sheriff’s Office responded to at the CVS on Jefferson Highway, including 40 thefts and two robberies.

RaceTrac representatives argued the area is already extremely commercial and heavily trafficked.

Eric Piazza, a RaceTrac representative, said the gas station chain is “an elite leader in the industry” and the store would have been a neighborhood market. He also said they agreed to leave the back of their property elevated, build a fence and plant trees to create a buffer.

Heck, whose district the proposed gas station is in, said he was voting with the wishes of his constituents and with the recommendation of planning commission staff.

In other business, the council also voted to give two popular neighborhood restaurants the ability to serve alcohol with meals — Zeeland Street Market on Perkins Road and Owens Market and Deli in Valley Park.

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