By John Schaffner

The Park Bench restaurant/lounge, which was labeled by some on the Neighborhood Planning Unit B Zoning Committee as “one of the good guys” from the old Buckhead Village, ran into opposition from some West Village merchants and residents at an Aug. 31 hearing on parking for its new 34 Irby Avenue location.

The half-dozen people who voiced opposition to Park Bench objected to another venue opening that primarily sells alcoholic beverages and will add to what they described as “overwhelming crowds” on Irby Avenue on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

One area resident told the committee “What was an area with three small neighborhood pubs has turned into a nightclub area.”

Park Bench was back for a second time before the committee seeking a special exception from zoning regulations to reduce its on-site parking requirements from 88 to 21 spaces and to allow for off-site parking for 67 spaces within 500 feet of restaurant/lounge location on Irby Avenue.

Park Bench owners are converting the former 6,600-square-foot Storehouse furniture store retail space into an eating and drinking establishment that will derive more than 60 percent of its gross income from the sale of alcoholic beverages

They have secured contracts for the off-site parking through the valet parking service that handles many of the dining and lounge facilities in that area of the West Village. The spaces are to be located in the lower level of the parking deck for Whole Foods Market, which is around the corner on West Paces Ferry Road.

The committee was assured the spaces were specifically designated for Park Bench and would have signage to that affect, following the earlier requests of the committee.

After the complaints were heard from those opposing the Park Bench application, the committee determined the arguments were not relevant to the zoning application before the committee, but rather would be relevant to a discussion before the NPU-B Public Safety Committee which hears requests for alcoholic beverage licenses.

“We’re not going to deny these people because they have followed the law,” Zoning Committee Chairman Cory Tibbs told those who opposed Park Bench. He said the Zoning Committee cannot act on Public Safety Committee issues.

The Zoning Committee unanimously approved the Park Bench application and it also was approved by the full NPU-B board at its meeting Sept. 7 as part of the Zoning Committee’s consent agenda.

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.