Amy Cunningham
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With a stern lecture to the project architect and the owner of the Moonlight Commons strip mall, at Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting, commissioners had the opportunity to slap the owners of Austin’s Bar and Grill on the wrists for not following approved plans to a T on

The metal window supports and the faux stone at the base of Austin’s outdoor patio section were areas of concern for Gardner Planning Commissioners. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

construction of a $100,000 patio added to the restaurant.

The smoking patio was added to the restaurant last fall in response to a statewide smoking ban that went into effect in 2010.

“I’m disappointed that this is back before us,” said Jason Burnett, chairman of the planning commission.  He said the commission initially approved plans for the structure back in June of 2010.

“There are a couple of issues that I saw.  The first thing that really stands out is a gate that is almost always open and blocks the sidewalk,” Burnett pointed out.  He also took issue with the partial loss of a parking spot on the site and said that it is now suitable only for motorcycle parking.

“…since this is not what we discussed in the past…our goal is to have it look and meet our guidelines.”

Commissioners also noted several change orders that were not part of the initially approved structure.

Planning commissioners asked that the gate have a self-closing mechanism installed and the parking spot be marked with clear signage to show patrons that it is suitable for motorcycle parking only. Commissioners also pointed out that bar owners installed removable glass panels on the patio that are held in place with metallic colored braces – braces that they feel are unpleasing to the eye.

The group debated the aesthetic appeal of the materials utilized on the base of the structure and the decorative metal tubing that owners plan to use as arches near the tops of the windows – commissioners are pushing for more tubing or other decorative items to be installed around the base of the windows to bring the look into balance. Finally, owners were asked to address the red colored support beams which draw attention and take away from the visual appeal of the structure.

Phil DiVilbiss, owner of the Moonlight Commons strip mall where Austin’s is located, said that the materials used at the base of the structure didn’t match the original plans because they were discontinued by the manufacturer and no longer available.  He said contractors were able to match the faux stone used at the bottom of the rest of the strip mall to construct the patio.

DiVilbiss also pointed out that the glass panels were not permanent and that they could be removed as the weather warranted.

He said the owners installed the panels to protect patrons from the elements during  harsh winters.  He also said that owners would be happy to install a metal pole in the parking space to prevent cars from attempting to park there and that the gate was scheduled to have the automatic closure mechanism installed.

“Without this (patio), Austin’s wouldn’t be here,” said DiVilbiss.  He told commissioners that the smoking ban has already put a restaurant out of business in another strip mall he owns in Lawrence.  “…we’re not here to argue, I’m here to get this approved.

“I’m going to be honest with you, this irritates me to no end,” said Commissioner Dan Popp, “because this is what we approved and this is what we got.”

In other business commissioners:

• agreed to forward to the Gardner City Council a recommendation to renew a 10-year conditional use permit for Santa Fe Self Storage to operate a storage facility at 1060 E Santa Fe Street.

• moved forward with design plans for a Casey’s General Store to be located at Center Street Commons on the corner of Gardner Road and 183rd Street. Commissioners added two additional stipulations to the plan; they decided not to allow vending machines on the property and required the company to provide a handicapped-accessible connection on the north sidewalk.  Planning commission also approved the final plat for the development.

• reviewed a presentation by City Engineer Celia Duran, water and wastewater manager James

Mervin and parks and recreation director Jeff Stewart on upcoming Capital Improvement Plans for the City of Gardner.

Duran said that, while many projects need attention in the upcoming years, the city has experienced a “significant decline in revenue and property taxes available for projects.”
“…we’ve planned and we know what we need, now we need to get the revenue,” she said.

• agreed to move forward with Phase III of the Bethel Estates, rental apartment for seniors age 55 and older, located at 335 W. Madison Street.