Battle brewing over Valley Street bar

A battle is brewing over a zoning change that would allow a longtime Baton Rouge bar to reopen near the Southdowns area after it was destroyed by a fire at another location late last year.

The city-parish Planning Commission is set to vote Monday afternoon on the zoning. But some nearby residents are opposed to the Time Out Lounge’s request to change the zoning designation for part of a building at 3180 Valley St., pointing out the proliferation of bars, restaurants and liquor stores that line a section of Perkins Road. Signs against the rezoning have popped up in the nearby Southdowns neighborhood.

Supporters and opponents of the Time Out Lounge are encouraging people to email planning commissioners and Metro Council members and attend Monday’s meeting to demonstrate the numbers backing their side. St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church even sent out an email, encouraging parents to bring their children to the meeting.

“This has not anything to do with the Time Out and their business; they seem like really nice people,” said Carole Anne Brown, vice president of the South Side Civic Association, which represents about 1,800 households on the south side of Perkins. “But we feel like with 35 businesses that sell alcohol in a two-mile stretch, we don’t need any more stand-alone bars.”

Brown said with all of the bars in the area, law enforcement officers are frequently stopping drivers along Perkins Road and charging them with driving while intoxicated. “With restaurants that sell alcohol, people entertain themselves and go home,” she said. But people stay in bars longer and drink more, which could cause problems when they leave.

Kathleen Byers, who co-owns Time Out with her husband, Jay, said there’s a fallacy in the civic association’s argument.

“They’re very adamant to say they’re not opposing new restaurants with liquor licenses, but they’re opposed to bars,” Byers said. “You can go in any restaurant, buy $100 worth of wine and get a DWI.”

For the past eight years, the Byers owned the Time Out Lounge at 9374 Old Hammond Highway. The lounge was next to an apartment complex and had a rec-room vibe, with pool tables, and bartenders making drinks from a sunken bar.

But the business was gutted by a blaze in early December that took 10 fire trucks to put out.

It took the Byers several months to find a potential new home for the bar.

“There’s a lot of empty real estate, but they don’t all work out potentially as a bar,” she said.

The couple found a 5,000-square-foot building on Valley Street that had been used by a party supply store. They are seeking a zoning change for 2,178 square feet of the building.

Byers said that’s less room than the Time Out had at its old location. “When we’re full, we’ll have 60 to 80 people,” she said. “It won’t be wild and crazy.”

Browne said the problem is that a zoning change is permanent. “If something happens to this business, the property owner can use that to put in another bar,” she said.

The Southside Civic Association is against any net gain of C-AB-2 permits, which allow for a bar or lounge that makes most of its money from selling alcohol. Browne said the association has worked with Uncle Earl’s and The Bulldog, two bars that opened in the area in the past few years, by swapping nearby C-AB-2 zoning that wasn’t being used. “If they were doing a little restaurant or deli and serving alcohol, that would be fine,” she said.

While the Time Out will sell some food, Byers said she doesn’t want to be forced into the situation of applying for a C-AB-1 zoning.

“To do that, you have to make 51 percent of your revenue in food sales,” she said. “That’s a full-blown restaurant and more than what we are able to do and what we want to do.”

The Planning Commission was set to vote on the Time Out rezoning at its July meeting, but deferred action to get more information about the size of the building and how much space the bar would take up. Planning Commission staffers have recommended the rezoning because it complies with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate