Citing high rent and vastly increasing operating costs, popular restaurant chain Houlihan’s saw its final St. Louis area location close on Dec. 30, 2019. That site was located at 1085 N. Mason Road, just south of Olive, in Creve Coeur.
However, the Nov. 21 Creve Coeur Planning & Zoning meeting offered a good deal of hope for a worthy replacement for the building that was constructed in 1981. The new prospect, Mexican Barrel House, would be mostly a sit-down restaurant but with curbside pickup on its southeast corner away from the main entrance. The restaurant would serve traditional Mexican food and also Mexican barbecue via a proposed outdoor smoker.
A conditional use permit request was presented to the P&Z Commission by architect Stewart MacGregor, of OSM, Inc. The site development plan calls for revised exterior elevations and a new outdoor patio area as part of the Bellerive Executive Park Plat 1 in this General Commercial District.
“The owner (Alfredo Flores) is trying to breathe life back into the old Houlihan’s,” MacGregor said. “They want to reface the exterior again and redo the interior."
MacGregor noted that city staff had commented on the need to dress up the site and make it more accessible.
“What we’re trying to do is use as much as the existing (9.044 square foot) building as possible without reinventing the wheel. We’re also aware of some of the things staff has made some comments on like upgrading the sidewalk width (from 5 feet to 6)," MacGregor said. "The exterior is not maintenance-free, and the proposal is to dress it up and give it as much maintenance-free material as possible.”
There were a few points of contention in the conversation that led to a decision for future discussions before a vote would be taken.
From a profit standpoint, Flores prefers occupancy of 220 indoor and 84 outdoor patio seats. However, City Planner Bethany Moore noted that there’s not enough parking to accommodate the 220 indoor seats. She said the site currently has 103 parking spaces whereas 110 are required based on seating numbers. As a result, the city staff recommends the indoor seating be lowered to 198 in order to comply. Moore added that outdoor seats are no longer counted in parking requirements.
Flores said he has been talking to neighboring properties regarding cross-parking, after which P&Z member Julie Labonte asked for details regarding any possible agreement.
“We’ve had some discussions with the property immediately to the south,” MacGregor said. “If we don’t get a cross-parking agreement that’s acceptable to the city, we have a backup to go down to 198 seats.”
Another issue is that onsite non-compliant lighting needs to be replaced since those fixtures are not downcast or shielded according to the city's current zoning code. The potential new owners would also need to replace existing trash enclosures that are beyond repair and repaint or replace an existing pole sign.
“The project includes an exterior remodel and a patio enlargement of about 700 square feet,” Moore said. “The site is in need of repairs and also includes some preexisting non-conformities such as being over the amount of site coverage for a commercial district. But the patio enlargement is exempt from site coverage calculations.”
Those items are all conditions for approval.
A new deck is also proposed and rooftop equipment would have to be screened appropriately. Landscaping needs to be added for parking spot islands and work is needed around the building, although some trees in bad condition have already been removed.
By far the greatest area of concern seemed to be the building’s proposed color scheme.
“Staff does have concerns about the very dark, almost black color that was chosen,” Moore said. “Design guidelines do mention that exterior materials are supposed to blend in with surrounding buildings. There aren’t any examples around it, or in the surrounding Creve Coeur area, regarding commercial buildings that would relate to that dark color. So, staff has recommended that the Planning & Zoning Commission review the colors of those exterior materials to see if they’re in compliance with existing and surrounding buildings.”
P&Z member Rhonda O’Brien wasn’t sure about what would be looked at in the area regarding building color comparisons.
MacGregor responded that just a block south on Mason is Bellerive Commons featuring very dark buildings by the lake with entirely black facades.
“How far do you go when you ask ‘in the area?" MacGregor asked. “There are different materials up and down Olive that are very dark. If you look at Houlihan’s, it kind of stands out with a very light, yellow color. So, we’re trying to make it a little less sore-thumbish.”
“You’re right,” said Jason Jaggi, the city's director of community development. “There are buildings that are a little dark if you go around the area, but yours with that color and the masonry, it’s very dark; almost black-stained with a red roof. It’s not going to blend in, but the existing building with a cream color doesn’t, either. This is our chance to make it a little better. We all want to do that. Our guidelines do speak to compatibility of colors.”
P&Z member Thomas Buelter asked MacGregor how flexible they are regarding color. The response was that they would work with staff on whatever compromise was necessary.
“It’s a very special place for me because that’s where my wife and I met over a decade ago,” MacGregor said.
Regarding another Buelter inquiry, Flores gave the restaurant's proposed hours of operation as 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. daily, except for an 8 p.m. Sunday closing time.
“One of the things we’d like to address is some type of advertising,” Flores said. “When you drive on Olive, you can barely see the building. Also, there will be music during regular hours, but no later than 8 p.m. We try to be as accommodating to neighbors as we can.”
Flores has been affiliated with several area restaurants since 1992 including managing a Chevy’s Fresh Mex and being employed at Casa Gallardo and Olive Garden restaurants.
“We decided we wanted to open one of our own,” he said. “We currently have one on Dorsett and 270 called Casa Juarez. So, this one will be like a branch of that restaurant. We’re willing to work with all of you as much we can so we can get this project going.”
The CUP discussion is expected to continue at the next P&Z meeting.