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Neighbors Look to Stop Proposed Bar & Restaurant in New Albany

Susan Post Susan Post Neighbors Look to Stop Proposed Bar & Restaurant in New AlbanyA rendering of the proposed project - provided by Aaron Underhill
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A Change.org petition, a dedicated opposition website, and a NextDoor poll all measure the varying – and oftentimes – strong sentiments regarding a proposed bar-slash-brewery in New Albany. 

The location in question is a 1830s era church and 0.93 acres of surrounding land at 6678 Central College Rd. The property is currently owned by the Lions Club of New Albany and serves as the organization’s meeting house and occasional event venue.

In December 2019, TFTFP LLC submitted a rezoning application to the City of New Albany presenting an adaptive reuse plan to transform the church into “a restaurant, brewery, and/or winery (or some combination thereof), with food service to [be] provided by means of food trucks as more specifically detailed in this text.”

The area is currently zoned agricultural, an initial catch-all designation for any property annexed to the city according to lawyer Aaron Underhill who represents the applicants. Under New Albany code, churches are allowed to operate anywhere.

The rezoning application seeks a “Planned Unit Development District” or PUD which would allow the applicants to write their own zoning standards that are particular to the property, using underlying code as the basis for the proposal.

A Google Maps Street View of the proposed site

A Call to Action

The technical aspects set the stage for what comes next.

Enter NewAlbanyBrewery.com. It’s not a website promoting the new development, but instead a call to neighbors to “STOP THE NEW ALBANY BAR PROJECT” as announced in large capital letters at the top of the page.

NewAlbanyBrewery.com screenshot as of 2/13/2020

The website, and accompanying Change.org petition, are run by neighbor Christopher Haag. Haag has lived around the corner – a mere 48 feet away from the church property according to his measurements – for the last 10 years.

The website encourages residents to voice their opinion and attend public meetings regarding the development, providing updates with dates and agendas. It also mounts opposition to various aspects of the project – from its developers, to the plan to utilize food trucks, to the lights that will be in the parking lot – as outlined in the rezoning application.

Location, Location, Location

As the saying goes – location, location, location. Haag’s main opposition to the proposal lies in its location. He’d love to see it in New Albany, just not here, suggesting alternatives like 161 or areas of Downtown with vacant buildings. (It was announced earlier this week that the city would be getting a different brewery – a Harvest and Three Tigers mash up at 97 E. Dublin Granville Rd.)

Some of Haag’s reasoning is personal. Living next door to the church, his yard and driveway have become fair game for parking during larger events. He says that he dislikes the idea of living next to a bar — while some people might like it, it’s not something he originally chose.

Haag also characterizes the area as largely residential.

The church sits at the corner of Central College Road and State Route 605. The northwest corner of the intersection is occupied by a large Discover Financial Services facility. About a quarter mile to the west, there’s a cluster of commercial development including a Taco Bell, Arby’s, Walgreens and more. East of 605, the landscape does turn largely residential until State Route 62, about two miles to the east.

Google Maps image of the area – the red marker indicates the location of the proposed development

“This is not a commercial area,” Haag says. “It’s under one acre and they are going to shoehorn in a commercial plot of land right in the middle of a dense residential area.”

On his website, Haag attempts to point to the lack of personal knowledge of the area by the applicants, specifically calling out one individual who lives in the City of Columbus and not New Albany.

That individual, Joe Dwyer, is one of four partners behind the project according to Underhill. The team includes New Albany resident Brian Hamrick, his business partner Dwyer, Jake Kessler, who operates the Knotty Pine in Grandview, and another restaurant industry veteran.

Realtors by trade, Dwyer and Hamrick found the property as being underutilized according to Underhill.

“Through some relationships with other two partners in the venture, [they] started to evaluate how this property could be used for the purpose that we are pursuing,” Underhill says.

Underhill elaborates that opponents of the project have characterized the proposal as “bar under guise of a restaurant.” (Although several names for the project have been used – from brewery to food truck restaurant, depending on who you ask.)

“What we are really try to do is the opposite,” Underhill says. “We envision this as a gathering place of the community.”

They’re aiming for a family-friendly concept. Underhill also clarifies that any brewing would fall more under the nano category, and while they will serve liquor, it will be in the form of mixed drinks. Finally, he adds that one of the developers – Kessler – has experience running a business in a residential area.

“He is very attune to wanting to be a good neighbor here,” Underhill says.

A Google Maps Street View of the back of the church building and Haag’s driveway

Food Truck Feud

Whether technically bar or brewery, the plan for food on the site has caused its own friction.

The rezoning application outlines the development’s plan to utilize food trucks.

Haag’s website counters with a photo of the food truck pulled from the application and text of, “As many as three food trucks can operate on the property. These will bring litter, noise, and NONE OF THE SALES BENEFIT NEW ALBANY.”

NewAlbanyBrewery.com screenshot as of 2/13/2020

Underhill provides more context to why the developers opted to go food-truck forward. To retrofit a building of that age with hoods and other elements to get a kitchen up to code would make the project not feasible. Instead the application outlines regulations for food trucks, like operating hours of 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. with no overnight parking.

Traffic Tangles

Rounding out the major points of contention is the impact on traffic in the area.

Haag says the building already sits at a busy intersection and the new development would create additional traffic, parking and pedestrian safety issues – especially considering some individuals will be imbibing and driving. He’s added the last two years of accident reports to the website for reference.

At the request of the city, the property developers have been working with a traffic engineering firm to study the existing traffic signal to see if lights would need to be altered or lanes re-striped.

Underhill says according to the city’s own traffic counts, there are just under 1,800 trips through the intersection at PM peak. Based on information from the engineering firm, the bar-slash-brewery would generated an estimated 30 additional trips during the evening rush. (With minimal to no impact on morning commutes since that’s outside operating hours.) Additionally, if the site were developed for another use, say office, the firm estimates an additional 40 trips through the intersection in the evening, with morning trips coming into play as well. Either are a faction of the daily traffic counts.

A Google Maps Street View of the proposal heading west towards 605

Change.org VS. NextDoor

So where do sentiments really stand?

As of Wednesday, February 12, Haag’s Change.org petition had rallied 195 signatures.

The Change.org petition as of 2/12/2020

As for the proponents, Underhill provided screenshots of a NextDoor Poll from mid-January indicating a majority – 77% of respondents – were in favor of the proposal, 16% were opposed and 7% had no opinion. Underhill thinks it’s an unbiased view of the community at large.

Screenshot of the NextDoor poll results provided by Aaron Underhill

The project has already been presented at the Rocky Fork-Blacklick Accord Implementation Panel, the first of two commissions that will hear the plan before it even heads to New Albany City Council.

Haag attended the meeting and was concerned by additional details discussed that differed from the application – like additional special events throughout the year, and operating hours that extended outside the 12-hour window for food trucks.

Underhill says the magnitude of the opposition has been somewhat surprising, noting the 30 plus that showed up to the first hearing, but “Nobody shows up to a meeting when they are happy.”

What happens next?

According to Scott McAfee, chief communications and marketing officer with the City of New Albany, the Rocky Fork Blacklick Accord voted on a 3-3 split regarding the proposal. The next stop is the Planning Commission which meets on Wednesday, February 19 at 7 p.m. (Haag’s website also has a can’t-miss update with details for the next meeting.)

McAfee notes that the application meets the technical specifications for use for the area. And that whether for or against, the process will continue to play out with opportunities for neighbors to voice their opinions.

If the plan passes the Planning Committee it would head to New Albany City Council for a vote just on the rezoning. The applicants would still have to bring a Final Development Plan, providing an even more detail description of the proposal, before City Council for approval before any construction would start.

The plan’s fate is still up in the air, but Underhill notes whether they succeed or not, any future development of the site outside its current use will likely require rezoning of some sort.

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