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Salt Fork owners take issue with plan

Proposal for Beerburger relative tabled over alley

SOLON– A new restaurant is trying to squeeze into the Main Street landscape.
But prospective neighbors were concerned to find out about it through little league; and likewise disconcerted to find out the new eatery wanted exclusive use of a shared alley for outdoor dining.
Relations between tentative neighbors got off left foot first during a wild and wooly Oct. 4 Solon City Council meeting.
Council members eventually tabled a site plan for 122 E. Main St., the former Solon Station, after learning owners of the Salt Fork Kitchen next door had not been approached about leased use of the alley.
Wade Investments, which submitted the site plan, sought to lease the existing alley between Salt Fork and the Station from the city for use as a fenced-in dining area.
According to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen, the Solon Station property was purchased by Ryan Wade of Wade Investments, who was present for the meeting with engineer Mark Seabold of Shive-Hattery. She said Wade asked her to run a concept plan for the site past council members a few weeks ago.
The proposal was put before the city’s planning and zoning commission, which recommended council approval, albeit with a host of variances, including parking.
City Engineer Dave Schechinger’s review of the site plan noted a lease agreement preserving utility and private access would be needed for the alley, and the paving of the alley would have to be done in a manner protecting the adjacent building to the west.
In addition, Schechinger noted the proposed use of the building might require a grease trap, the installation of sprinklers and an accompanying increase in the size of the water line.
Variances would be required for parking, green space, buffers, landscaping and loading requirements, he concluded.
Based on the 3,600 square feet of the building, 36 parking spaces would be required, documents associated with the application stated. With the addition of 1,520 square feet of outdoor seating, another 16 parking spaces, or 52 total, should be provided under the city’s current code.
Two parking stalls can be gained on Main Street in front of the leased alley, while the proposal depicted four employee parking spots at the rear of the building.
But it wasn’t the parking that turned out to be the biggest issue.
“We’re a little perturbed that we weren’t notified by the city,” Salt Fork Kitchen co-owner Jay Schworn said during the meeting. “We’re talking about a relatively significant change to a thoroughfare which is used, I think, a little bit more frequently and for reasons that council as well as new owners of the building might be unaware of.”
Schworn said he had only learned of the project that day as a result of a little league connection of his partner, Eric Menzel.
“We’re obviously directly affected by this,” Schworn said, noting he and Menzel felt a lot more communication and participation should occur before consideration by council.
“We’re all for people making money,” he said. “However, we don’t appreciate the approach, or being left in the dark on this.”
Schworn said he had never met the project’s owner before the day of the council meeting and had not been approached regarding the proposed use of the alley.
The city had apparently misunderstood the situation slightly.
Two days after the council meeting, Rasmussen explained what happened.
When developer Ryan Wade told the city he had approached Salt Fork’s Menzel about the possible sharing of a dumpster enclosure, Rasmussen took that to mean the Salt Fork team had been clued into the request to lease the alley.
Because there were no significant exterior modifications planned to the Solon Station building and a similar use was being proposed, the project did not require a zoning change, something which would automatically notify adjacent property owners.
At the council meeting, however, the misconception continued.

“I would hope that the city doesn’t go ahead with putting things on their agenda or making plans and going this far with things just based on word of mouth,” Schworn said. “We’re a good, clean place, we’re not alcohol-heavy, we’re a family establishment. It would have just been nice to have been considered on this.”
The Salt Fork owners cited several concerns in addition to the lack of notice.
The Salt Fork building has a rear entrance for an upper-level apartment which opens on the alley, and Salt Fork employees take advantage of parking at the rear of the building.
Trucks making deliveries to the businesses on the north side of Main Street often clog the rear alley, Schworn said, leaving access only through the alley between the buildings.
If the new business creates a following, it will only increase the number of deliveries in the rear alley.
“If we can’t get to it, we can’t use it,” he said of the rear employee parking.
In addition, he also questioned where customers for the new business would park given the current streetscape.
Schworn said he was not in favor of sharing the alley, but could envision a public walkway leading to a pedestrian commons as depicted conceptually in the city’s comprehensive plan.
In the meantime, he suggested Wade extend the outdoor dining area behind the building and leave the alley alone.
“Then wait and see, and if you want to move forward with this, allow us, the adjacent business that’s been there for four years and is established, to be part of the conversation to work with you and the city to do something that benefits everyone and we can all be a part of it,” Schworn said. “It doesn’t hinder us, it helps us. I think that would be a better approach to the whole matter.”
Seabold, of Shive-Hattery, explained the property had only been purchased the Friday before, and plans had been held in confidence, only shared with city staff.
During the meeting, 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.
“I feel horrible. I really, truly do,” Wade told Schworn during the meeting. Wade said he didn’t feel he had the right to discuss it with the adjacent property owners because he didn’t own the building yet. He described himself as having invested in different projects which brought 50 jobs to the Solon area over the last 15 years.
“We have great intentions here,” Wade said.
The proposed project represents a $1 million shared investment, he said.
“It seems to me like you were just trying to make it happen without us really being aware of it happening,” Schworn responded.
At that point, City Attorney Kevin Olson pointed out the rules of discourse for the council meeting, and Mayor Steve Stange brought the discussion to a halt.
City Council member Steve Duncan, who sat on a committee which discussed the proposal, said he was disappointed Salt Fork hadn’t been approached.
“You folks need to have some conversations, I think,” Duncan suggested.
Stange agreed, noting the two sides should get together and visit with the city staff before putting the site plan back on the agenda.