By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
Patrons enjoying winter sunsets on Mozambique’s rooftop deck will now also be able to retreat inside at least temporarily to the Durban Room, a space previously placed off limits when the deck opened a year ago.
The reprieve came Tuesday when the City Council effectively reversed the Planning Commission’s decision at least until January to deny use of the forbidden floor space over the restaurant’s lack of adequate parking spaces.
The decision centered on whether non-traditional parking solutions such as a shuttle service could be used to satisfy parking requirements based on a square footage, but also served to highlight dissatisfaction among city officials and merchants with a parking code deemed outdated and inflexible.
To win approval to open the 1,480-square-foot deck in 2013, restaurant owner Ivan Spiers agreed to a condition that required shuttering the Durban Room because the additional deck space required more parking spaces. But Mozambique sought to reverse that decision and reopen the area by offering a shuttle service. That plan was rejected in September by the Planning Commission. Such a trade off was permissible if it avoided an intensification of use, such as augmenting square footage.
City Manager John Pietig warned Spiers he risked code-enforcement fines if the Durban Room was put to use while the matter was under appeal.
Citizens crammed into City Council chambers Tuesday to weigh in on the appeal, with 19 people speaking in favor of it and 14 opposed.
Arguments supporting Mozambique’s internal expansion centered on Spiers’ generosity to the community and local non-profits, his support of live music, and his extensive efforts to find creative parking solutions.
Opponents generally disagreed with liberal interpretations of, or changes to, the city’s parking code, expressed discontent with the restaurant’s lack of compliance with its existing permit, and especially objected to restaurant staff parking in nearby neighborhoods. They also disputed a proposal to use mechanical parking lifts in the parking lot.
Attorney Larry Nokes, advocating on behalf of Spiers, said in addition to the 61 on-site spaces at Mozambique, the owner has leased 100 more nearby and operates five shuttles, which ferried more than 1,000 patrons a month since October. Nokes said city code allows their consideration and argued there was room to interpret the code’s definition of “intensification of use.”
“Consider that we have a real engine in support of the arts with Mozambique,” said music promoter Rick Conkey, who books acts at the restaurant and praised Spiers for “bringing such amazing artists to the stage and supporting artists here.”
“Ivan is a business leaders who wants to make a living, provide for staff and contribute to the community,” said Wendy Potter, who praised the owner for hosting a dinner that benefited Glennwood House, a residential facility for developmentally disabled young adults where her daughter resides. He’s done the same for many others, she said, echoing similar testimonials.
Many lauded Spiers’ pursuit of creative solutions for a lack of parking and pointed to a dearth of similar efforts. “I don’t know a restaurateur who has invested so much money to get cars off the street and to mitigate drunk driving,” said Billy Fried.
Former Planning Commission member Bob Chapman said the situation provides a strong rationale to re-examine city code requirements for intensification of use and parking and square footage ratios.
Johanna Felder and Charlotte Masarik, speaking for Village Laguna, disagreed. “It’s all about compliance,” said Masarik, who also called the restaurant out for not abiding by its permitted conditions. Allowing an exception “creates mayhem with the general plan,” she added.
“Rules are made to be met, not broken,” Arnold Hano agreed. “We’re not trying to drive Mozambique out of business, but rules are rules…and over and over again these people have flouted the rules,” he said,
Rick Niemann addressed a complaint of the local residents that allows 40 to 50 employees to park within a roughly two-block radius around the restaurant.
To appease the neighborhood residents, Spiers agreed Tuesday to instead use his leased spaces for employee parking by Jan. 1 and to drop pursuing the addition of parking lifts.
In addition to allowing Mozambique use of all of their floor space through the end of January, assuming the shuttle services keeps operating, the City Council ruling included other contested elements: noise tests, additional deck umbrellas, approval of a subterranean storage room and removal of an existing storage container. And it included a stipulation that staff report back with an update on the parking situation in March.
Notably, the Council also directed staff to undertake a comprehensive review of the city’s parking ordinances.
“I will say that as a city official and one who sat on the Planning Commission, I am troubled by [Mozambique’s past] lack of compliance,” said Mayor Bob Whalen. “I certainly hope there is a better effort at compliance going forward.” Even so, he saw a need to move ahead on the issue and particularly to seek citywide parking solutions.