Thursday, December 16, 2010

Parking and Restaurants

Greg and Mary Sonnier ran the fabulous Gabrielle in the Bayou St. John neighborhood for years. Name an award bestowed upon restaurants and chefs, they have won it. Following the levee failures, the Sonniers purchased what they thought was a restaurant on Henry Clay in what many have called the Isle of Denial. Enter fierce neighborhood opposition, add a few years of wrangling, and the Sonniers are still waiting to open Gabrielle.

The issue is that the commercially zoned restaurant had its restaurant title stripped away. Two days ago, Gabrielle was up on the City Planning Commission docket with the hopes of reinstating the building as a restaurant. The CPC's own staff recommended that the zoning be changed back to allow Gabrielle to open as a restaurant.

Slight tangent which will make sense in a few moments. Years ago, Eddie Sapir ran for mayor. You may remember this because literally every cab in the city was festooned with Run Eddie Run orange bumper stickers. Well, rather than win mayor, Mr. Sapir has turned the full brunt of his political muscle against a husband and wife who simply want to serve great food. I don't know Mr. Sapir and don't know his side of the story. He isn't an elected official, but he is sure acting like one. And I have a problem with that.

Now, on Tuesday's docket there were a number of items. One involved the Sonniers the other was a zoning ordinance for Hopper's wine store to open across the street from Whole Foods on Magazine. Now, I fully support both business, but check this out.

Re: Hoppers, the Commissioner, Poco Sloss, requested that the Commission waive the parking requirement and grant the zoning ordinance. When Gabrielle came up for review, Mr. Sapir waxed, I am sure poetically about the pain, misery, and confusion that Gabrielle would cause on the neighborhood and in particular the parking nightmares it would cause. When it came time for the Commission to vote, they informed the Sonniers that unfortunately they couldn't overlook the lack of safe, secure parking. The Sonniers request was denied.

Something is rotten in New Orleans.

What restaurant in New Orleans has safe, secure parking? Tick thru your list of 20 restaurants you routinely go to. How many of them have a parking lot attached? For me about the only one that does is Nine Roses, and I think that is in Jefferson Parish. Galatoire's, Patois, Clancy's, Rue 127, Commander's Le Foret, August, Cochon, La Boca, etc... None of these places have parking lots (Some of those listed do have valet, though). New Orleans restaurants and parking are mutually exclusive.

Secondly, Hopper's and Gabrielle are separated by a 8 city blocks. Now, Hopper's is off site consumption, but to me if parking is a requirement than you can't waive it for one and not the other. Thirdly, and this is where Mr. Sapir's cab driving supporters may be pissed off, there is a public policy argument against parking lots as this article points out.

But even more so, the city, state, and feds are cracking down on drunk driving. If MADD really focused on what it needs to do, it would be against parking lots in any fashion. Especially parking lots attached to bars and restaurants. See, if I know a place has terrible or no parking, wouldn't the smarter thing be to just take a cab?

At the end of the day, the Sonniers' battle with the city over reopening Gabrielle is a black eye on this city. It makes me ashamed of New Orleans. There are obviously forces working behind the curtain to make sure Greg and Mary Sonnier stay in a perpetual state of sadness and uncertainty. And for what purpose? The neighborhood will say parking and noise. But currently the premises is licensed as a special event catering hall. When they host events, more cars come into the neighborhood then would if they ran a restaurant.

Finally, we all have to deal with bullshit and stuff we don't like. That is part of being an adult. The house across the street from me? It has sat in disrepair for 2 years. Around the corner there is an empty lot which harbors these field mice that send the hounds into a tizzy. To the Isle of Denial I say this: Grow up and come out from behind Mr. Sapir's apron.


Anonymous said...

Here, here!!!


Ryan Waldron said...

I would love to have Gabrielle in my Neighborhood. I don't think any of my neighbors would mind (other than La Thai, Crepe Nanou, and Pascale's Manale). Restaurants of this quality increase property value. Furthermore, I don't typically eat at any restaurants with parking provided inside the City Limits.

Antoine's? No parking provided. Clancy's? No parking provided. St. James Cheese Co.? No parking provided. Mahoney's? No parking provided. Galatoire's? No parking provided. Horinoya? No parking provided.

and on and on and on...

alli said...

Cosigned, 100%

Parking minimums are the death of a walkable, livable city. People need to learn to use their own two legs.

(And for that matter, the city needs to build more and better sidewalks, but that's another rant for a different time.)

I walk and bike to restaurants and stores in my neighborhood - St. James Cheese, Sukho Thai Uptown, Crepe Nanou, Whole Foods, Rouses, etc specifically because the parking situation is bad. That's the point. When walking and biking are more convenient, people will do that instead of drive! And that's the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

Uptown NIMBY snoots for the lose.

Anonymous said...

don't most of the people in the 2 block area have driveways!! last time I drove by they did.

nola said...

this is such BS.

for hundreds of years, thousands of years, humans did a simple thing -- eat local. we walk to where the food is. we walk to the eateries in our neighborhood...which is why we call 'em neighborhood eateries.

and thats good. eat local. the more places there are for this, the better it is for all. people arent going to drive from downtown to your little hood if they have places of their own to walk to. this dining model has functioned perfectly for centuries.

Gab's isnt trying to entice the whole city to drive over to it. its trying to be a good neighborhood restaurant. why fear that? why try to block it?

especially if you have a driveway.

Anonymous said...

La Petite Grocery has a gated parking lot across the street available during the evening and all day on Saturdays! When you make a reservation the hostess will give you the code or you can call on the way to get it.

frog said...

You are missing the salient point. How much time is spent in a wine store per visit compared to a fine dining restaurant? Parking in that neighborhood is an issue not to be lightly dismissed.
And Whole food has a block and a half of parking that mitigates any parking issue Rick's wine shop will have. Crepe Nanou and the Upperline have a huge parking lot across the street.

Rene said...


Have you ever shopped at Hopper's. Everytime I go in there, or anyone for that matter, you can spend upwards of an hour easily shooting the breeze with Ric or tasting something special.

The salient point is using parking as a rationale for approving or denying anything is an outdated and inefficient way of city planning.

Fleurdelicious said...

Frog, I live in the area around Crepe Nanou and Upperline and I can assure you that parking in the CVS/Pizza Hut/Iberia Bank lot is not permitted unless you are a customer of said businesses.

Mary and Greg Sonnier are wonderful people, chefs, and devoted New Orleanians. I find it truly amazing that in a city with such an emphasis on good food that anyone would try to keep someone from sharing their culinary talents.

This makes me very, very sad.

Rémy said...

Walking to dinner is a delightful start to any dinner out, and a handy way to get the blood flowing afterward. I can happily walk from my house to Patois and Clancy's (and Reginelli's, and Taqueria Corona, and Martinique, and Bistro Daisy...), which I believe puts me right outside the Isle of Denial. All I'm interested in is adding Gabrielle to my list of neighborhood haunts! And judging by the devout clientele of Clancy's and Patois, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume the rest of uptown New Orleans could get used to having another awesome option. This is crazy and enraging.