Never doubt that one negative person can frustrate an otherwise productive and fruitful neighborhood conversation. It happened last night when about 30 of us at a community meeting (open to anyone in the community who cared to attend) talked with Darryl Settles and his architect about his (yay!) plans for 85 Centre Street, Legends on the Hill.
Like the "conversation" on national health care, so much of what has informed the conversation on Settles' proposal has been a "keep your government hands off my Medicare" kind of misinformation.
So, to the facts. Settles is in the process of buying the lots and hopes to close on the property by mid-March. The building on the site is structurally unsound and will need to be razed. What he rebuilds is dependent on whether or not he gets a liquor license but will be mixed use (yay!!). The options are ground level commercial space with 6 one-bedroom lofts above or ground level commercial space with 2 two-story lofts above or an open work space concept which would be available during the day to members and in the evening become a restaurant/cafe. This venue will not be a nightclub.
With a capacity of 125, the restaurant/bar will be reasonably priced, family friendly, and would be open 'til midnight or one on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It would close earlier on the other nights of the week. As far as the 2 a.m. liquor license, Settles said he is "only guilty of asking for everything but not expecting to get it all". In a perfect world he would love to keep the place open til 2 (making for a healthy and viable business) but he always realized that those late hours were unlikely in our neighborhood. He is undertaking this project on his own and without partners.
The reasonable concerns articulated repeatedly in the neighborhood and in the ether: increased noise, traffic, and shifting plans for the space. Those can and will be addressed. Even without Settles bringing a business here, parking is a problem for some and that problem is being discussed and solutions are in the works. Living spaces above the commercial space insure state of the art soundproofing. Plans for the space are a process and will morph over time as the neighborhood voices concerns and Settles hits the inevitable snags inherent in any project.
The unreasonable concerns articulated in the neighborhood and in the ether: bringing in a restaurant/bar will bring in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Yeah, like they're not already here). But to say that a Settles business will bring mayhem to the area is like saying bringing in the Newport Jazz Festival is going to attract a Woodstock '99 crowd. It isn't logical and it isn't true. It's a red herring diverting attention from productive conversation and negotiation.
Which brings me to the It Won't Work Here person. Everytime that person's mouth opened, Armageddon flew out. "This never worked and that never worked and this won't work and that won't work and this isn't fair and that isn't fair". Still, though that person worked really, really, really hard to drive us all to thoughts of suicide, the group voted by an overwhelming majority to support Settles in his pursuit of a liquor license contingent upon his attendance at a meeting, "facilitated by Chuck Turner, with immediate abutters to discuss his detailed proposal, and all options for 85 Centre Street".
That Settles will be developing the property is reason to rejoice. As one neighbor pointed out last night, a new building on the site rids the neighborhood of that piece of urban blight and heat trap that is asphalt. The final project will have its opportunity costs as does every decision we make in life. It won't be perfect. But neither is what we have now. It's time to progress to a different type of imperfection.