Our View: A step in the right direction

Our View: A step in the right direction
The new restaurant Del Ray Gardens will feature a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, with the outdoor area featuring lawn games as well as TVs and speakers. (Photo credit: Department of Planning and Zoning)

City council’s decision to compromise on seating at the Del Ray Gardens restaurant at Saturday’s public hearing was the right decision, even if the process was messy and somewhat arbitrary.

To recap, the new owners of the former Fireflies location at 1501 Mt. Vernon Ave., bought the adjacent garden store and went before the planning commission last September requesting 64 seats, indoor and outdoor, for the additional concept.

That request preliminarily passed. But when it came back through the system this month for final approval, the planning commission, with city staff’s blessing, increased the seating capacity by a whopping 242 percent, to 155 seats.

Residents who had initially supported the plan were uneasy about the huge, and seemingly random, hike in the number of allowed seats. Many members of city council, led by Del Pepper and Canek Aguirre, also expressed concern about the hike, though support for the concept.

Pepper proposed and council adopted a compromise of 100 seats. While it’s true that this number was somewhat random – a round number roughly in the middle of 64 and 155 – the decision also showed good common sense.

City staff said the 91-seat increase was justified by the fact that the site has three parking spaces. Let the “logic” of that sink in for a minute.

Our takeaway from this action is that if city residents, staff and elected officials want city code to be followed in all instances, rather than for council to mediate as it did on Saturday, then that code needs to be based in reality.

The notion that three parking spaces is sufficient for 155 seats in a restaurant does not come within at least 55 seats of sniffing what’s logical.

Can anyone say with a straight face that patrons of this restaurant, with all 100 seats filled, are not going to be parking, probably in large numbers, on surrounding residential streets? We know that they will.

Just as we know that patrons of the recently approved restaurants at Robinson Landing are going to park on the streets of Old Town, pushing a difficult parking situation there to the point of being unlivable.

We are close to destroying what’s precious about our city in pursuit of the elusive temptor called “vibrancy.”

But city council’s action on Saturday also served as a reminder that those seven have the final say. This is a new city council with a majority of new members. They are not bound by the mistakes made by previous councils regarding parking reductions or the policy of approving every expanded density request or development special use permit that comes before them.

Saturday’s vote reminds us that council can actually say “no.”