- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Not everyone is on board with the idea of converting the historic Frankfort Avenue Church of Christ in Clifton to a Rails Craft Brew and Eatery - a few blocks from where another Clifton church is for sale again as a possible site for a tavern or nightclub.

The proposed Rails site would go from a struggling church with a Sunday morning service and church school advertised out front on a sign reading, “Welcome to the House of the Lord,” to a commercial restaurant and bar with likely hours from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

The church, 1901 Frankfort at Haldeman Ave., is between the Flats on Frankfort apartments and the Kentucky School for the Blind/KSB Charitable Foundation and in front of multi-story homes along Haldeman, an area that was said to be appealing because of its “tranquility” at a recent neighborhood meeting to discuss the Rails plan.

“Obviously, it’s a beautiful old church,” Rails’ attorney Bill Bardenwerper said at the meeting, held Nov. 22 by Rails owner Dave Lawrence and his development team at the church. But “there’s a lot of change taking place. People’s worshipping habits are quite different.”

Questions were raised before and at the meeting about a requested zoning change for the project from R-5 single-family residential to C-2 commercial, parking, traffic, the effect on property values, music, rodents, food smells, dumpster issues, placement of a grease trap and safeguards for visually-impaired neighbors and students.

Matt Henderson, who lives directly behind the church, also asked what could happen if the rezoning were approved and the Rails plan didn’t work out - or the property was sold down the road.

Lawrence offered assurances that residents’ concerns would be addressed, but many restaurants are known to fail with the first year, and “the person who follows you up may not feel the same way,” Henderson said. How do residents know that the “next guy” will do “the right thing and take care of people on the street?” he asked.

Lawrence, who said he has a long history in the restaurant business, said he plans to put more than $1 million into the project and expects to be operating the business at least 20 years or more down the road. If something were to change, “we have to protect that investment” and find the right tenant, he said. He also said many restaurants along Frankfort have been there for many years.

A preliminary application for a zoning change for the Rails project has been submitted to the city, and Lawrence is under contract to buy the property from the church if the zoning change is approved, which could take about six months, Bardenwerper said. Lawrence, who lives in Louisville, operates two other Rails restaurants at 318 W. Lewis and Clark Pkwy. in Clarksville, Ind., and in a converted hardware store next to train tracks in Seymour, Ind.

Janet Muller, who has lived for 18 years a few blocks west on William Street near the Silver Dollar bar and restaurant, said she was at the meeting to warn residents of traffic problems and others that she’s experienced. People park in the alley, and her access out to Pope Street also has been blocked by a semi-trailer. “I don’t envy these people,” she said.

The scenario Henderson asked about appears to be materializing at Frankfort and William, where James Lees Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1741 Frankfort Ave., was sold by denominational leaders for $295,000 in 2015 to a development group called JDA Properties, 3401 Bashford Manor Court. The small church was dissolved after 120 years, when it could no longer afford to pay a minister and maintain the building, and church officials said at the time it was to be sold for an undisclosed new use.

But the building went back on the market a couple of months ago - this time for $525,000 - after the buyers changed their minds and decided not to put in offices or apartments, said Bill Friel with Weichert Realtors, who’s marketing the property. It’s now zoned for commercial use, and KCREA.com information says it’s suitable for “Mixed Use, Restaurant, Street Retail, Tavern/Bar/Nightclub, Other.”

The owners had a “change of heart” and went in “a different direction,” Friel said.

A church representative said at the meeting that the congregation there also has dwindled and can’t keep up the building, although it “used to be full-blown at one time.” The church bought the property for $575,000 from Gospel Kingdom Church in 2002, according to Jefferson County Property Valuation records. It’s now assessed for tax purposes at $180,000.

Lawrence said there will be no brewing on site and that the dumpster will be emptied three or four times a week. The sloping floor of the sanctuary would be leveled for seating, and an upstairs area could be used for parties and events, he said.

“It will give you that feel of a unique building,” he said. The church lot currently has 24 parking spaces, and a few more could possibly be added if they’re made narrower and reconfigured, supplementing street parking, Bardenwerper said.

Lawrence said he’s working on arranging off-site parking for employees at Third Lutheran Church across the street or at a daycare center, as a backup.

“I can’t control the customer, but I can control the staff,” he said. He also said they would work on creating screening - including fencing and greenery - between the restaurant and its parking lot and nearby houses.

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com


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