Updated: May 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Residents of the Shooks Run neighborhood east of downtown Colorado Springs are divided over proposed plans to put a restaurant in a shuttered building that, for more than a century, housed a neighborhood grocery.
Many like the idea proposed by partners Michael Carsten and Noel Black to offer an eclectic menu along with alcohol, takeout food and even a deli in the space formerly known as the Little Market and Deli, said Louise Conner, president of the Middle Shooks Run Neighborhood Association.
Some neighbors mourned when the Little Market closed in December, commenting on a Gazette story that its closure left a hole in the neighborhood at the corner of Willamette Avenue and Prospect Street.
Since 1902 residents of the area have enjoyed a neighborhood grocery store and meat market in that building.
Different owners offered varying specialties, such as the hot-link sausages offered by William Trice until he sold the store in 1988. New owners Tom and Laura Ghiazza turned the market into a place to get healthy food, quality produce and excellent customer service.
Then retired nurse Chris Bettendorf bought it in 2000, and it became known for her homemade breads, cakes and specialty meats.
Customers appreciated the personal service amid the century-old surroundings such as the original door, wood floors, tin ceiling and more.
Bettendorf told The Gazette in December that her own health issues coupled with increased competition from chains and the recent recession had doomed the market.
Though a neighborhood market no longer seemed viable, Carsten and Black are convinced the neighborhood would support a restaurant.
"The building excites me," said Carsten, whose restaurant experience includes managing the Blue Star on South Tejon Street, as well as stints at 15 C Club, a martini and cigar bar downtown, and Shuga's Restaurant on South Cascade Avenue.
"In cities where I've lived, like Seattle and even in Denver, this sort of thing - neighborhood restaurants - are everywhere," Carsten said. "Opening neighborhood restaurants is smart city design. It creates a hub for a neighborhood; a place where you can walk and get a meal. I envision a place they can be proud of. It will not be a nightclub."
But the prospect of a restaurant with seating for 60, selling alcohol and staying open until midnight scares neighbors in the tightly packed old homes along narrow Prospect Street and other nearby streets.
Neighbors' biggest objection is the lack of parking. They envision cars coming and going from in front of their homes at all hours, disrupting the peaceful atmosphere of the family neighborhood.
"It's a really quiet neighborhood," said Nicole Rosa, who lives across the street on Prospect. "We've lived here nine years, and we like it quiet.
"The great thing about the market was that it closed at 7 every evening. People came and went during the day. But at night, things got nice and quiet."
She and others living near the building voiced their objections at neighborhood meetings and in emails to the city Planning Department, which has looked at a preliminary plan and suggested a restaurant is not a great fit for the building.
Neighbors fear a restaurant will overwhelm the neighborhood with traffic. Some residents don't have off-street parking, meaning they will be competing for spots.
They fear alcohol sales will lead to loud drunks filtering into the neighborhood late at night.
And they worry about strangers walking into the neighborhood to smoke or congregate at closing time.
"At one of the neighborhood meetings, the two men proposing this kept trying to convince us we would be able to accept more noise," Rosa said. "They told us to deal with the noise. I really resented it."
Rosa also is a bit miffed at some of her neighbors who live farther away and are supporting the project.
"Some people who live three blocks away think it's a great idea," she said. "But who wants to live right next to it? It would completely destroy the peace and quiet of those who live close."
Carsten said he was surprised by the hostility of a few neighbors and by city planner Steve Tuck's initial response to the preliminary plan. Carsten and Black have not filed a formal application for a variance or development plan.
To accommodate a restaurant, the building would need to be rezoned from retail or granted a variance from zoning. City code assumes a restaurant represents a much more intense use of the building than a retail shop. As a result, restaurants must provide significantly more parking for customers.
The market building has no parking lot and relies on curbside parking.
"I don't see the justification for increasing the intensity of the use and the impacts that would bring to the neighborhood," Tuck said, noting the question ultimately would be decided by the city Planning Commission. "I haven't seen how they are going to address or resolve those issues yet."
Carsten said he's already made significant changes to his plan in response to neighbor complaints including agreeing to close earlier most evenings and reduce the capacity of the restaurant.
"I've scaled back greatly from my initial proposal in response to their desires," he said. "This is not a nightclub. It's not a bar. It's a neighborhood restaurant."
But he acknowledges his options are limited - the market had just six dedicated street parking spots - and the parking issue could kill his project.
"It's not in my budget to buy a house, knock it down and pave it for parking," Carsten said. "We're going to meet again with the neighbors. I guess we'll see where we go from there."
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