The City Council will have the final say on whether the owners of JJ’s Grill can build a new restaurant and brewery in north Fayetteville.
JJ’s owner Jody Thorton last month submitted plans for a nearly 12,000-square-foot building on a piece of undeveloped land in the CMN Business Park area at the southwest corner of Van Asche Drive and Steele Boulevard.
Thornton said the building will include three tenants: an off-shoot restaurant and bar with an outdoor live music stage; a production brewery that will develop and sell a unique line of beers exclusively to JJ’s Grill restaurants; and the corporate headquarters for JJ’s Grill.
Instead of forwarding the project to the Planning Commission for approval, city planners said they are unable to process the proposal in its current form.
Jesse Fulcher, senior city planner, told commissioners at Monday’s meeting that the developers of the property were at odds with neighbors in the Centerbrook Subdivision when they first tried to rezone the land in 1995. The subdivision, which is accessed from Shiloh Drive across from Target, was once in a quiet part of town. The neighborhood is now surrounded by hundreds of acres of land that is either ripe for development or is already home to several large commercial businesses.
Fulcher said in order to appease the neighbors, the developers agreed to prohibit some uses of the land adjacent to the subdivision, including restaurants.
When looking back at documents from 1995, Fulcher said the neighbors’ chief concern was the possibility of businesses being built that could operate late into the night. The neighbors, he said, wanted to see the area remain quiet, and preferred office-type buildings that would be closed after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
Asa Hutchinson III, an attorney representing Thornton, said he doesn’t believe the restrictions should apply to the corner of Van Asche and Steele where the restaurant and brewery is planned.
He said be believes the original agreement was only meant to prohibit restaurants along two 400-foot strips of land – one at the north edge of the Centerbrook Subdivision, and one along the east border of the neighborhood.
According to Hutchinson and Michele “Micki” Harrington, an attorney representing the landowners, the neighbors at the time were only concerned about the property immediately abutting their back yards, not the land at the corner of the nearby intersection.
Several residents who spoke Monday – some who have lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years – said it was their understanding that all the land southwest of Van Asche and Steel was included in the bill of assurance. Others said while they weren’t around in 1995, they still did not want a restaurant with outdoor live music so close to their homes.
Subdivision resident Marshall King disagreed.
“I’m 100 percent for having a restaurant there,” said King, who reminded commissioners that Grub’s Uptown restaurant has been in business across Steele Boulevard for several years. “If noise is a concern, we live across the street from a hospital. Sirens blare every single day. We have a train track that comes through at either 2 or 4 a.m. and blows its horn every single morning.”
“The fact is, we live in the middle of noise,” added King. “Having a restaurant there is not going to enter in anything additional that would cause a problem.”
Hutchinson said the current plan is to host outdoor live music for about four months each year with concerts being held once a week for about three hours at a time.
City Attorney Kit Williams advised commissioners not to get into a debate about whether the corner lot was originally intended to be included in the restrictions. Because city staff is already at a standstill, Williams said the only decision to make is whether to remove the restaurant restriction entirely from the bill of assurance.
“You’re really here to make recommendations to the City Council about whether or not you believe that it’s reasonable to remove any potential restrictions that might prevent a restaurant from going in,” said Williams.
The commission eventually sided with Thornton, and voted 6-2 to recommend the City Council remove the restriction from the agreement.
Aldermen are expected to hear the proposal at the Oct. 20 City Council meeting.