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Revised site plan approved

Alley dining for new restaurant scaled back
Solon City Council members approved a revised site plan for 122 E. Main St., the former site of the Solon Station, during an Oct. 18 meeting after developers proposed using less of a city alley for outdoor dining. (Shive-Hattery rendering taken from city council packet)

SOLON– Everything’s okay now.
After two weeks to iron things out, two prospective Main Street neighbors have mended the fence.
As a result, the members of the Solon City Council, at an Oct. 18 meeting, unanimously approved a revised site plan for a new restaurant at 122 E. Main St., the former location of the Solon Station.
The site plan was tabled at an Oct. 4 session after Salt Fork Kitchen owners Jay Schworn and Eric Menzel said they had not been approached about a plan to use an alley between the two buildings as an outdoor dining area.
But the Salt Fork partners and Ryan Wade, the new adjacent property owner, met with city officials subsequently and talked it out.
“They had a nice conservation back and forth and have been working together to come up with something they can both agree to,” Mayor Steve Stange said, re-introducing the plan to council members.
“What you’re seeing is really a compromise of that discussion,” City Administrator Cami Rasmussen explained.
It resulted in only minor changes to the plan, she said, reflecting Salt Fork’s desire to maintain access to the alley.
Originally, Wade Investments, which submitted the site plan, sought to lease all of the existing alley between Salt Fork and the Station from the city for use as a fenced-in dining area.
The first plan also depicted four employee parking spots at the rear of the building and two new stalls on Main Street in front of the leased alley.
In the revised plan, the alley dining area is restricted to allow a 4-foot walkway on the Salt Fork side. To gain back the square footage for outdoor dining, the rear parking spaces were eliminated.
According to site plan documents, the entire alley will be paved with concrete to match the existing grade. The dining area will be enclosed by a 6-foot wood fence.
“I think what you guys are seeing is pretty much what we were hoping for,” Menzel said at the meeting. “We just wanted to be allowed to use that throughway and also for the public to use it.”
Wade indicated Salt Fork’s ideas complemented the city better than in his original plan.
“Sometimes the good first idea isn’t always your best idea,” Wade said.
Stange raised a lone concern, for additional lighting.
“My concern is when that building closes at night, from two ‘til morning, there’s not going to be much light in there,” Stange said. “Just from a safety aspect.”
Wade indicated a series of low-voltage lights could be added to the fence to illuminate the alley walkway.
“Just enough so it’s not pitch black,” Stange added.
Council comments were limited.
“I like the aesthetics of this plan a lot better than what the alley looks like,” noted council member Mark Prentice. “In the positive direction rather than having an alley which is not very attractive.”
Council member Lauren Whitehead questioned Wade about his plans for a mural as depicted in site plan illustrations.
Wade confirmed it was part of the design and said he was hoping to attract a local artist for the job.
At the Oct. 4 session, Wade identified the tenant of the property as MAiNGREDIENT, an Iowa City-area restaurant group which includes BeerBurger in North Liberty, and the Eden Lounge & Nightclub in Iowa City. Wade said the new eatery would be “food service-heavy,” a blend between BeerBurger and the Iowa Chop House.
There was a lone questioning voice from the public.
“Is this setting a precedent?” asked resident Cheryl Reyhons. Reyhons asked if the city was planning to close other alleys with access to Main Street.
“It’s not a discussion the city has had, to start closing alleys in general,” Stange said. “I would think it would be handled on a case-by-case (basis).”
Reyhons said she felt the city had been inconsistent with granting variances.
“Probably will be a nice looking place, but just as a town, is this good for the entire town or just good for developers?” she asked.
Council members approved the site plan on a 5-0 vote, with variances for parking (the original site plan documentation indicated 52 spaces should be required), green space, buffers, landscaping and loading requirements, and upon condition of a lease agreement for the use of the alley.