CARRBORO - The managers of Johnny’s, the coffee shop and meeting place on West Main Street, say they will drop a rezoning request that has upset some neighbors concerned about onsite drinking and outdoor music.
Co-manager Duncan Morgan said the business will continue to pursue a conditional use permit to allow outdoor markets and acoustic live music outside.
“The whole problem seemed to be rezoning to have alcohol onsite, and then if we went under, the new property could become a bar or nightclub,” he said. “The implication was that we want to become a bar or nightclub, and that just isn’t the case.”
Marty Roupe, the town’s development review administrator, sent Morgan a letter that cited five individuals who had complained about recent activities at Johnny’s, including wine tastings.
In response to complaints, the N.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Commission suspended Johnny’s wine tasting license indefinitely, but the store is still allowed to sell wine and beer for offsite consumption.
On Sept. 18, the day before the license was revoked, Morgan met with two neighbors who had concerns about the property being rezoned.
“I thought we had a nice discussion about where we were going to take things,” he said.
The store, at 901 W. Main St., is within a residentially zoned area, which does not allow retail stores. The property predates the zoning change and is grandfathered in as a local grocery store, which the town refers to as a “legally non-conforming use.”A little history
When Johnny’s first opened as Bill and Tillman’s, it served as a small grocery store.
Johnny Howard later opened the property as Johnny’s Sporting Goods, a bait and tackle shop, which also sold groceries and beer.
Brian Plaster and Jan Halle purchased the property in 2007, though it was owned solely by Plaster who sold the business in 2011.
Johnny’s Gone Fishing was formed in late 2011 by Halle, Erica Eisdorfer and Kevin Morgan, Duncan’s father.
It is being dissolved to make way for the new business, Johnny’s 3.0, which will be owned by Kevin Morgan, Duncan Morgan and Meghan Truesdell.
When the business re-opened under Plaster, some neighbors took issue with onsite drinking, loud music and increased traffic on neighborhood streets.
Carly Walker, who has lived in Carrboro for 60 years, said the managers have a great vision but she does not want to deal with the same problems that the neighbors experienced under Plaster.
“I worked in the beer business for over 10 years; I have nothing against beer,” said Walker, who lives in the Westview Drive neighborhood next to Johnny’s. “It’s just that it needs to be in the right place.”
Walker and some of her neighbors organized a petition against the Johnny’s rezoning in November 2011 that now has more than 100 signatures.
Devon Clark, who has lived on Kay Street for 50 years and helped with the petition, said the music was so loud he heard it in his house 300 feet away.
“It was really frustrating and caused me a lot of anxiety,” Clark said. “We helped establish this neighborhood and we think we deserve to be considered too.”Noise and traffic
Some frequent customers, like David Glass, don’t see Johnny’s as a burden.
“It is one of the crown jewels of the town,” said Glass, who lives near Walker on Westview Drive. “It makes the area more desirable to live in.”
Still, Glass remembers the past issues.
“It did get very noisy at times and crowded and cars parked all along Westview Drive, but it’s not like that anymore.”
Traffic is a serious concern for Genie Gatenf-Robinson and her husband, Roger Robinson.
For six years, the couple’s daughter, Katie, has lived in Carrboro Residential Services, a group home for adults with disabilities.
“We take her back (to their home) on Saturday nights; often it was right during whatever was going on at Johnny’s,” she said. “The traffic was incredible. Any kind of emergency vehicle couldn’t possibly get back there.”
Gatenf-Robinson said her 33-year-old daughter has autism and noisy situations upsets her.
“Our objections aren’t that there is a small business there; we are all for small businesses in Carrboro,” she said. “We just don’t want people drinking and being loud in a residential area because it was not zoned to be someplace that people would come to drink.”
Joanne Perry, a Westview Drive resident, also worries about cars blocking access to her street in case of an emergency.
Perry said her husband is disabled and she has called the Orange County Rescue Squad three times in the five years they have lived in Carrboro. ‘Saving Grace’
Truesdell said Johnny’s was her saving grace when she and her family moved to Westview Drive from California a few years ago.
“I could bring my kids, listen to music and socialize with my neighbors,” she said.
Truesdell and Morgan say they want to keep Johnny’s a gathering place.
“I guess our biggest goal is to make this a community hub,” she said. “We ask people to bike and walk so that the street is not congested.”
The managers plan to host classes, indoor live music, art openings for local artists and birthday parties.
Along the bright front windows, customers enjoy coffee and scones while working at the tables or comfortable sofa chairs.
Wooden tabletops display locally sourced produce and pastries. This month, Johnny’s is featuring artwork by local student artist Linnea Lieth.
In the back, the managers have put together a new student lounge with more soft sofas and chairs.
Halle, who owns the property, said she wants the store to be a good neighbor. It will close early and not have loud music, but she would like to have live acoustic music.
“There is something iconic about this place,” she said.