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The Bauer property moved a step closer to redevelopment Wednesday.

On the agenda last evening at the Individual Landmarks/Architectural Review Committee meeting was whether to allow the demolition of the locally designated landmark “Bauer’s Tavern” – most recently Azalea’s Restaurant – on Brownsboro Road at Mockingbird Gardens.

The plan would make way for a “concierge doctor’s office” and a Mesh restaurant. (See renderings at right.)

The current plan would replace an earlier unpopular proposal, which got tentative approval, to build a Rite Aide drugstore on the East Louisville site.

The main theme from multiple parties on the developer’s behalf yesterday came down to, “Let us do this, or we’ll build a Rite Aid.”

The case is unique because the Bauer family is not seeking to de-designate the property as a local landmark, but rather is making the case that the demolition of the historic structure is necessary because of the subject’s condition, and that using the existing structure would create economic hardship.

Redevelopment advocates spent a lot of time talking about rotting wood, and two kinds of mold found in the basement, yellow and white, for which they showed pictures.

Proponents speculated the mold dated back to when Bauer’s Tavern had fire damage from two separate fires in which the fire department pumped water in the basement that was never pumped out. One of Bauer’s proponents said that arson investigators concluded the fires had been set by vandals.

We asked developer and owner Charles F. Bauer if he received an insurance settlement from those fires. “Yes, but it wasn’t enough to pay for the damages,” Bauer told us.

He also clarified that he wasn’t able to make insurance claims for damages caused by vandals that didn’t involve fires, because those damages are not covered because the property is vacant.

The Bauer property has generated years of controversy. Proposals have divided preservationists and neighbors in the surrounding wealthy neighborhoods over the fate of the long-vacant Azalea building, which dates back to a 19th Century blacksmith and wagon repair stop.

The oral case for the development proposal was made by developer Bauer, who is an owner of Bauer’s Tavern through Charles F. Bauer Realty Partnership LLC, representatives of his potential tenants and their architect, Studio A Architecture in Louisville.

Bauer had to bring his proposal before the Individual Landmarks/ARC Committee because the entire property was designated a local landmark in 2008. A requested exception was approved by the committee in 2010 that approved the construction of a Rite Aid drugstore on the property. That exception also allowed for the demolition of some of the Bauer’s Tavern structure, that was an addition, to make way for a restaurant that never happened.

“This is a very unique case, unprecedented as far as I know,” said Bob Keesaer, Landmarks Supervisor and case manager for the application. “Very difficult for staff to get their hands around this proposal.”

Keesaer used the analogy as a classic car: If you have a chassis with serial numbers, you can rebuild that car, and it is that car.

“If you don’t have that chassis, then you are recreating that car, and it becomes a kit car or a simulation, ” said Keeser during his staff presentation. “Ultimate question we’re looking at today – do we have that chassis or not.”

The proposed doctor’s office will sit just a little closer to the road than where Bauer’s Tavern is now located, and parts of the facade will emulate the existing structure.

“The new Mesh restaurant is mid-century modern reflective of our period of time, based on historic standards, it’s always better to reflect a period of our time and not faux reconstruction of the past,” Keesaer, said.

Paul Grisanti spoke on behalf of Michael Cunningham of Cunningham Restaurant Group, which is proposing Mesh Restaurant. CRG has one Mesh Restaurant in Cincinnati and one in Indianapolis. The latter is located in a renovated 100-plus-year-old building, we would hear later from former senior staff of Metro Historic Landmarks Debra Richards.

Grisanti, who spent 40 years in the restaurant business, described Mesh as a local gathering place – flip-flops or a tuxedo would be okay. The proposed restaurant will have brunch, lunch, dinner and meets a lot of price points. “Mesh is a place to mingle, to see and be seen, to have a nice dinner, or the place to party,” Grisanti said.

When Bauer’s team was finished presenting, the committee’s chair, Bob Vice, allowed for questions from committee members. Vice limited questions to allow time for everyone time to speak. Committee member Daniel Preston asked how many square feet the Bauer’s Tavern structure was, and the answer given by one of Bauer’s spokesmen was 1,500 sq. ft.

Comments for the remainder of the discussion referenced “the 1,500-square-foot structure,” which confused us and a few of the people we talked with. According to the PVA, the structure is 7,109 square feet.

Preston’s final comments made it clear he has concerns about the proposal.

Excerpts:

“I don’t think the building is in danger of falling down. Having been in the basement, there’s a couple beams that are rotten, there’s some sagging floors that have been jacked up.”

“You can get rid of the mold. It’s only 1,500 square feet, and mold remediation is not rocket science.”

“If we’re making the argument that the building is structurally is unsound, I think we need a stronger argument for demolition.”

Resident input excerpts, including Terry Meiners:

More residents spoke out in favor of the entire proposal than against. Of the 11 citizens who gave oral input, six were for it, and three were opposed.

Those in favor:

Perry Sutherland, who is opening a Sutherland Hardware and Mercantile store in the old Doll’s Market; businessman and Mockingbird Gardens resident Steve Bass; Mockingbird Gardens resident Terry Meiners; Kelley Construction co-owner and resident Joe Kelley; Rolling Fields Commissioner Dan Tafel; and attorney Michael Tigue, counsel for Mockingbird Valley.

Tafel told the committee he was not speaking on behalf of Rolling Fields, but also said three of five Rolling Fields commissioners approve of Bauer’s plan.

Those opposed:

Clifton resident Michael O’Leary, Debra Richards, and the executive director of Preservation Louisville Marianne Zickuhr.

O’Leary brought pictures of a Queen Anne structure located at 2221 Frankfort Ave., which he and Richards both cited as a preservation example that should be followed for Bauer’s Tavern. Their example, once known as the Frank Faris property, was saved due largely to preservationists’ efforts and is now The Comfy Cow, which offers “handcrafted ice cream and desserts.”

O’Leary, Richards and Zickuhr all expressed outrage that two separate staff reports, from 2008 to 2013, could suggest essential opposite recommendations.

Two citizens were not included in the above tally on technicalities:

George Gans III, Mockingbird Valley resident and former president of Paul Semonin Realtors, spoke out in favor of the project, but with strong disapproval of the more contemporary design of the Mesh Restaurant structure. Gans suggested everyone visit Maine and Connecticut and see what a great job they do of matching new construction up beside historic landmarks. After the meeting, but within our earshot, Bauer confided to Ganz that the restaurant’s proposed design was not his first pick, either.

Mike Mulheirn spoke representing Jefferson County Public Schools. Mulheim was careful at first to say the school system wasn’t taking a position on the proposal, but then he ended by saying JCPS didn’t have a problem with the proposal. Chenoweth Elementary School is adjacent to the Bauer property.

The committee did not vote Wednesday. The case has been continued for consideration at the next meeting set for Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 5:30 PM, at the same location. (444 S. 5th St., Conference Room 101.) Public input can be emailed to Keesaer: [email protected]

Related:

Proposed Bauer property redevelopment plans show twin to historic tavern, contemporary new Mesh restaurant

Bauer/Azalea property appears headed toward showdown between developer, Mockingbird Gardens homeowners

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Curtis Morrison, a former Insider contributor, is now a Whittier Law School J.D. candidate (expected graduation May 2016).

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