The city scheduled a planning commission meeting for Monday evening after it came to the attention of City Clerk Shane Smith that the Grill and some other already existing businesses may be in violation of the city’s current zoning laws.
“I guess it has been overlooked before,” Smith said. “We already have businesses in the zone that shouldn’t.”
The city has much of its business area, including the area where the Grill is scheduled to open and the areas along Interstate 20, zoned as a general business district. That zoning allows neighborhood-type businesses including restaurants that do not serve alcohol, as well as businesses including hospitals, theaters, manufacturing of retail items, veterinary offices, athletic fields, truck terminals, public enter-tainment and recreation facilities. What it doesn’t allow are restaurants that serve alcohol, convention centers or liquor stores.
Those types of businesses are only allowed in a central business district. Heflin currently only has one of those, right in the downtown area hemmed in by the railroad tracks running along Ross Street, Bell Street directly behind City Hall, Bedwell and Almon streets.
There is already an Alcoholic Beverage Commission store on property near exit 205.
The city needs to fix this, Mayor Rudy Rooks said.
The city is mainly concerned with the areas around the Interstate, Smith said.
“We have potential businesses that are looking at that area that we need to accommodate,” Smith said. “Right now it’s not accommodating really for anything.”
The city owns property near Exit 205 on I-20 that it hopes to market as an industrial park. But the type of business it was hoping to attract wouldn’t be able to settle out there because it’s not allowed in the current zoning, Rooks said.
Some of the businesses in the areas along I-20 were grandfathered into the current zoning because they had already set up shop before 2002, Smith said. But for new businesses, the zoning is very restrictive, he said.
“We would rather see it reflect what our Central Business District reflects,” Smith said.
The city has scheduled a public hearing for the new zoning rules on May 16, 6 p.m. at the Heflin Recreation Center.
However, the plan is still under construction, Smith said.
The plan should go to the City Council for review at its May 28 meeting, he added, too late for the Grill’s scheduled grand opening.
Even as the city is working to fix the zoning issues, the Grill has drawn fire from some local residents who don’t want the business near their homes.
Tommy Gaines, who owns the house next door to the Grill on Burns Street, attended Monday’s planning commission meeting to voice his concerns. He doesn’t live in the house, but it is up for sale, Gaines said. Tuesday, Gaines said he is not opposed to a restaurant moving in to the building, but doesn’t want a bar.
“We want it to be a restaurant and not a bar because of its proximity to residential homes,” Gaines said.
Gaines is concerned because the former resident of the building was a sports bar and he said there were issues with noise and rowdy behavior even outside in the parking lot, he said.
He’s afraid no one will want to live in the house if there is a lot of noise at night, Gaines said.
Jeff McGowan, who plans to open Father and Son Grill on May 24 with or without a liquor license, said the Grill is a restaurant not a bar.
“When I applied for my license, I applied for a restaurant license,” McGowan said. “I’ve invested a lot on money in this place to be a restaurant.”
That means that at least half the income must come from food, he said.
McGowan does intend to have musicians perform acoustic music on the weekends, including his opening weekend, but he has always wanted to be a good neighbor. He had operated a similar venue in Rome, Ga., and never had any noise complaints or problems with rowdy clientele.
It’s a matter of security, McGowan said. At the Rome restaurant, he hired off-duty police officers to man the doors and he intends to do the same in Heflin.
Smith said the city does have a noise ordinance that the police enforce with a noise meter. Capt. A.J. Benefield, interim police chief in Heflin, said when the Rusty Spur Sports Bar occupied the building there were some incident reports because of noise complaints.
Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.