Neighbors opposed to proposed opening of bar in former Pizza Hut
So, what’s the difference between a Pizza Hut and The Lucky Dog Grill and Pub?
Depends on whom you ask.
“I don’t believe (The Lucky Dog) would be any different than having an Applebee’s (restaurant) in your neighborhood, something like that,” said Rachael Parker, Chillicothe’s director of economic development.
And then there are the neighbors.
“Pizza Hut was a family restaurant, and did not attract, in general, an undesirable ‘party’ crowd as exists at other pub/restaurants,” reads a petition being circulated to oppose the makeover of the long-vacant building at Fourth and Beech streets from a franchise pizza joint to a pub and grill. “A shift to a more ‘party crowd’ would be a negative impact to our neighborhood and our lives.”
Dennis and Sandy Luckett operate the restaurant inside the Chilli Bowl bowling alley on Truitt Avenue. The business is owned by Danny Colwell, an alderman on the Chillicothe City Council. Sandy Luckett has operated one restaurant or another in Chillicothe, Dennis Luckett said. The couple started looking for a new location when they learned that the Chilli Bowl would be closing.
Pizza Hut’s former location on Fourth Street has been on the market for sale for almost three years, since the restaurant moved two blocks to a smaller location. The Lucketts applied for a low-interest loan from the city — called a help loan — to use along with bank financing to purchase the building. The property, across the street from a gas station/convenience store on the main street through the city, is zoned for commercial use.
Restaurants/bars are allowed uses in a commercial zone. Pizza Hut, which had served beer and wine, opened on the property in 1985.
The city’s economic development committee, with Alderman Colwell in attendance, recommended the loan be approved in late March. It will go on a future City Council agenda for a vote that often goes the way of a committee recommendation.
End of story, right? No.
Tazio and Katie Grivetti and their five children have lived at 419 W. Beech St. since 2007. Their tidy, fenced-in property sits directly behind the vacant building across an alley that bisects the block. Wes and Melissa Green and their six children live next to the Grivettis on Fifth Street. The couple have lived in their home for 15 years. There are neighbors in houses that face Fourth Street that are even closer to the old Pizza Hut than are the Grivettis and the Greens.
None of them wants to live next to a bar.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” said Tazio Grivetti. “No one can convince me that there’s not a drastic difference between a Pizza Hut and a full-fledged tavern.”
A group of neighbors attended last month’s committee meeting where the recommendation was approved. They felt their arguments against the tavern were dismissed by committee chairman Jim Thornton and the rest of the committee.
Afterward, Dennis Luckett talked to the increasingly agitated opposition group on the sidewalk outside of City Hall.
“Basically, he confirmed every fear we had,” Tazio Grivetti. “They’ll stay open until 1 a.m. on weekends. They hope to have karaoke or live music, be a stop on weekend poker runs, have a full hard liquor bar with a bartender and an outdoor seating area. Pizza Hut closed by 11 p.m. The potential for trouble is huge.”
Luckett said all he and his wife have done is follow the rules placed in front of them and that they are being castigated as bad neighbors before they have even purchased the building.
“We’re not asking for any special treatment here, and I don’t see where I’m being outlandish in any way,” Luckett said April 1. “Believe me, there are plenty of other rules and regulations that control what we can and what we can’t do inside of our business.”
Grivetti and Wes Green argue that all of the residents in the neighborhood pre-date whatever business moves into the old Pizza Hut, and that they should have some say in what goes in there. They will present the council with a petition opposing the Lucky Dog the night the council decides on the loan.
“Are we to believe that because it’s zoned commercial that ‘anything goes’ in there?” Grivetti said. “The council can vote to not approve the loan if there is legitimate opposition to the change in usage of the building. A Pizza Hut is not the same thing as a bar. It’s just not.”
Alderman Colwell deflected the charge from the opposition group that his involvement in the economic development committee’s recommendation to approve the loan constituted a conflict of interest because of his relationship with the Lucketts.
“Yes, I know a lot of people in Chillicothe; I’ve lived here for 48 years. I can’t help that,” he said. “I get their point; I really do. They had their opportunity at the committee meeting to voice their concerns; it’s their right to do that. Now it will be up to the city council.”
Noting the charge of conflict of interest, Colwell said he would likely abstain from any future council vote on the loan.
“I’ve spoken to the city attorney, and since I would not gain personally (from the loan for the new business), we feel that there is no conflict of interest in any way, shape or form,” Colwell said. “Still, I will probably abstain (from a future vote on the topic).”
Grivetti said the opposition group is frustrated because it feels as if “the fix is in” and that their concerns are not being seriously considered.
“Since they are getting a city-backed loan, we as taxpayers are actually subsidizing the purchase of the property so that it can be turned into a bar that is going to detrimentally affect our quality of life,” Grivetti said.
The group last week took the additional step of making its own offer on the Pizza Hut building now owned by YUM Brands.
“We have done this with the intent of ‘de-restaurantifying’ it, beautifying the property, and then putting it back on the market as retail or office space,” Grivetti wrote in an email Friday.
He said YUM, which also owns KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers and A&W along with Pizza Hut, stipulates that a new owner must agree that for a period of 20 years to not sell Mexican food, chicken or chicken products, pizza, pasta, Italian sandwiches or other Italian food products, seafood or hamburgers, according to material provided by Grivetti.
It is certainly interesting how the Lucky Dog would have a very interesting menu with all those food categories eliminated,” Grivetti wrote. “I presume they were going to try to get YUM to relax the standard. Our offer for the property, of course, would have no problem with this clause.”