By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
City council approved a special use permit for a combination of 100 indoor and outdoor seats at the Del Ray Gardens restaurant on Mount Vernon Avenue during its public hearing on Saturday. The number was a compromise between the original 64-seat request and the 155 seats the planning commission recently recommended.
Council members and community members largely supported the application from Del Ray Gardens, but their questions about the process by which seating capacity is determined resulted in extended deliberations.
The proposed site, which occupies two lots on 1503 and 1505 Mount Vernon Ave., will feature a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, with an emphasis on outdoor seating. The outdoor area would feature lawn games as well as TVs and speakers.
“I think that that use would be extremely popular and could allow the restaurant to serve as an anchor for the southern end of the Mount Vernon commercial area,” Jeff Robertson, a resident who lives near the proposed site, said.
The special use permit was originally submitted to the planning commission in September 2018 with a proposed 64 seats.
“When this came through in September, we were estimating that 64 seats in a similar proximity to residential [as Evening Star] was a good number to try, a good number to limit it to for the purposes of ensuring that noise impacts would be moderated or mitigated,” Director of the Department of Planning and Zoning Karl Moritz said.
However, during the planning commission meeting on April 2, Commissioner Mindy Lyle recommended an increase to 155 seats, the maximum for this particular site, based on a staff recommendation that the site’s three parking spaces could accommodate 91 additional seats in the outdoor area.
The increase in seating capacity – and the potential for noise – caused several council and community members to question the permit, despite support for the project as a whole.
“Considering that we don’t have a lot of outdoor seating in the city, I could see this place being packed, which is great and I want to see happen,” Councilor Canek Aguirre, who ex- pressed excitement for the restaurant, said. “The only issue is, when you’re talking about  people, that’s a large amount of people.”
“That sounds like a real jump to 155 people when it hadn’t really been vetted in the community,” Councilor Del Pepper said.
Pepper proposed a compromise of 100 seats with the potential for an increase should the applicant require it in the future. Several councilors, including Mo Seifeldein, supported Pepper’s proposal but raised the question of whether the city’s seating restrictions complicate the process for in- coming restaurateurs.
According to Cathy Puskar, attorney for Del Ray Gardens, the applicant originally asked for 64 seats to expedite the process. Requesting additional seating requires time and money that can quickly become costly for business owners, Puskar said.
To address the procedural concerns of council, Moritz suggested a special administrative process for the proposed site. According to Moritz, the applicant could increase seating by a maximum of 20 seats, if, after a certain amount of time, there have been no code or noise violations at the site. The process would mitigate additional costs and time for the applicant.
Pepper made a motion, seconded by Councilor Amy Jackson, to approve the special use permit with 100 seats. An amendment from Seifeldein would allow the applicant to increase seating through the administrative process with the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Although the motion was approved unanimously, Puskar said that, for the sake of small businesses, the process behind seating may need to change in the future.
“As we move forward, so that there aren’t surprises to the community, [I suggest] that perhaps we take a different approach and not try to limit the number of seats for businesses and instead allow it to be driven by code requirements,” Puskar said.