Leona’s Zoning Change by Scott A. Rappe

Leona’s Restaurant, long a neighborhood institution, briefly listed their property at 1936-42 West Augusta for sale in January. The listing sheet described the C1-5 zoning of the property as allowing an 80’ tall, 54 unit building, while neglecting to mention the property was in the East Village Landmark District and was subject to problematic for several reasons.

The B3-2 requested by the neighbors was equivalent in bulk, density and height to the
property’s original C1-2 designation and would have restored the lot to its original zoning potential with no
harm to the owners.
The B2-3 negotiated by Alderman Flores and approved at the May 17, hearing allows significantly more height, area and dwelling units. Unfortunately, this additional zoning ‘potential’ creates pressure to build
denser and will likely result in the demolition the existing Leona’s buildings. Furthermore, unlike the B3 classification which requires retail uses on the ground floor, B2 allows residential units to be located there ‘as of right’.

Since the property is within the East Village Landmark District, any new development on the property will need to pass the Landmark Commission’s Permit Review Committee.
This review will likely limit the height, which in turn may reduce the size of the building and number of units. However, since the existing buildings are designated ‘as noncontributing’ it cannot prevent the buildings from being demolished.

Both Alderman Flores and one of Leona’s owners, Sam Toya have committed to bring any development to the East Village Association for consideration. However, with the approved B2-3 classification allowing residential units on the ground floor, it is unlikely that a developer would need the community’s support for anything. This means that the East Village Association will have no power with which to bargain for improvements.

Alderman Flores’ support was crucial to reducing the threat of the wholly inappropriate C1-5 zoning; for that he deserves our gratitude. However, the final resolution undershot the goal of returning the zoning to a classification consistent with the retail perimeter of the East Village neighborhood, (which is zoned no higher than B3-2 anywhere) and reducing the incentive to demolish the existing buildings. In the end, all we can do is trust that Leona’s owners will restrain themselves and respect the wishes of the community that has supported them for two decades.