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Restaurant battle leaves a sour taste

JACKSONVILLE — At a special meeting that brought out plenty of raw community feelings, the Jacksonville City Council voted Thursday to let the Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus temporarily operate a prep kitchen adjacent to the main restaurant in the historic Jacksonville School building.

At issue was whether owner Hilary Kemmling's prep room should be allowed to operate in a building separate from the restaurant, even though the city Planning Commission had not declared it a permitted use — and won't have the chance to rule on it until its April 13 meeting.

The building behind the restaurant was originally approved as the restaurant, but the owners changed their plans and located the eatery inside the 1908 schoolhouse.

They said they figured the separate building's less-impactful use as a prep kitchen was covered by that definition.

City Planner Amy Stevenson and several neighbors disagreed, saying no business has the right to get exceptions to ordinances and procedures that everyone else has to follow — and some objected to increased traffic, suggesting the use creates "two restaurants."

Stevenson told the council the building is approved for storage and refrigeration, but she'd witnessed food preparation there and — after conferring with county health inspectors — both agencies decided it should be discontinued until the use was approved by the Planning Commission.

Representing Kemmling and investor-developers Mel and Brooke Ashland, former city planner Daryl Witmore told the council the new use was a "modification," not a circumvention, and didn't enlarge parking, lighting or any other impact, adding, "all it does is shift things around."

Neighbor Marta Lyons responded, "They're essentially operating restaurants in two buildings and they haven't been forthright with the Planning Commission ... G Street has all this huge activity and a bar entrance, without anyone considering the impact."

The owners, Lyons said, should "shut down and regroup," find space in the restaurant for prep work and not do things by special meeting.

The council called a special meeting, in mid-afternoon, with only one agenda issue, providing a day's notice. The approval was for special events and lasts only until the Planning Commission meets next month.

It passed 5 to 2, with members Paul Hayes and Dan Winterburn voting no.

Former Mayor Clara Wendt told the council, "the law is the law," and suggested there might be "ethical complications" if officials have communications with applicants outside of a formal meeting and approach it with an attitude of "don't worry, we'll work this out."

Neighbor Penni Viets said she objected to the council approval because all are "supposed to go by codes and laws ... and the city of Jacksonville is not responsible for them making money with their business."

Witmore told the council that when he was city planner, the final order included a description of the area as a kitchen, and "that's less of a use than what's being challenged now."

Pulling out plat maps, Stevenson disagreed, saying, "it's on the books now as 1,200 square feet of nothing."

Jackson County Environmental and Public Health inspector Brian Shelton said he discovered the building's use as a prep kitchen last Friday during a semi-annual inspection and told the owners they had to get approval for such use from the city.

Jackson Baures, division manager of Environmental and Public Health, said the building was approved only for dry storage and refrigeration, "but it had changed and they'd constructed a prep kitchen. They need to submit detailed plans for review by the city — and county health has to inspect it."

The City Council's special meeting was called as a result of the decision of the city Planning Department and county health inspectors that the prep kitchen could not operate without city approval.

In December, neighbors wrote Stevenson with a list of concerns about impacts and activities at the restaurant. In response, Stevenson, in a letter to owners Monday, detailed a list of requirements for changes in parking, lighting, landscaping and signs as well as a "professionally prepared Master Plan."

Stevenson wrote that many conditions of approval by the city in 2008 were either "not completed, not checked on by previous staff or unclear as to their meaning or required date of completion" and that use of the adjacent prep kitchen "must cease immediately."

Brooke Ashland, in an interview, said the owners had met or soon would meet all conditions demanded by Stevenson and that "she (Stevenson) is dealing with a transition between old and new administrations (and) she's just doubling back and checking all the conditions."

Ashland cited upcoming special events for which the adjacent building is needed, noting, "Amy believes we should go back to the Planning Commission, but that would shut us down for a month."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Concrete finisher Donnie Wright, Central Point, touches-up the sidewalk outside an addition to the Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus restaurant. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune - Bob Pennell