‘All-inclusive’ weddings seen on neglected hilltop

       A Near Westside hilltop that's beenhome to different restaurants over the past quarter-century would become a “wedding event center,” under plans submitted to City Planning.
       The 2 ¾-acre plateau is at 775 W. Bijou St. A redevelopment project would renovate the existing 8,500-square-foot building and add space (including a deck, offices, chapel and limo entryway) to bring the total structural area to just over 15,000 square feet. The name of the business will be the Pinery at the Hill.
       The site is one of few that offer high-point vistas of both the downtown and Westside.
       It is also surrounded by an older residential area, so a neighborhood meeting is anticipated sometime in the next few weeks. The property owner is the Yellen Family Partnership LLLP (limited liability limited partnership), which has been successfully operating a business called the Pinery Wedding and Event Center in Black Forest for the past year, according to Eric Allen, its director of operations. The new business would be modeled on the same “all inclusive” premise, in which couples have their marriage and receptions under one roof.
       “It's going to be very, very nice,” Allen said, predicting a mid-September groundbreaking and May 1, 2009, opening.
       Assessor's Office records show that Yellen purchased the property in mid-May for $1.45 million and owns it under the name of Pinery at the Hill LLC (limited liability corporation). According to the forms submitted to the city, the applicant's name is Bruce Barr of Art Klein Construction. He has been given permission by the Yellen LLLP to “act on our behalf for the submittal and representation of our project,” states a letter signed by its president, Mitchell Yellen.
       The Klein proposal includes a description of the Bijou Street Pinery's offerings. Additional aspects of the “all inclusive” wedding concept is the on-site availability of an event coordinator, florist, DJ service and executive chef. Other types of gatherings the business would handle are holiday parties, class reunions and anniversary celebrations; the appeal of the Pinery at the Hill would be its view, a close proximity to downtown, “state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment and banquet/bar services, the description states.
       The request to the city is for approval of a major amendment to the site's development plan, which was put together by an ownership group that had the property from 2006 to 2008.
       The original zone change goes back to 1980, when the Planning Commission and City Council agreed to vacate Hill Street through the property and change the zoning from residential to planned business center (PBC) to accommodate a restaurant. The concept was controversial at the time: An appeal was filed by a nearby resident after the Planning Commission vote. The body allegedly had failed to consult the then-recently passed Westside Plan (calling for retention of residential zoning at that site), had overlooked traffic issues (the access being on “very small, winding and narrow streets”) and ignored staff recommendations. But council backed its Planning Commission, and a series of restaurants have followed. Signs for two of them are still up: the “Fish Market” (visible from the east side of the hill) and “Bijou Hill Restaurant - coming soon!” (in the parking lot, partially obscured by tree branches).
       One restriction of a PBC zone is that the only business allowed on the site is a restaurant. City attorneys and planning staff have agreed this stipulation can be met by defining the wedding event center as a “private restaurant facility,” according to the application's Project Statement.
       The Statement also notes the present condition of the property: “Currently the building and site are vacant; the building has been robbed of all plumbing and electrical materials, pillaged and vandalized to a sad state of repair.” The goal is to “revitalize and clean up the facility.”
       Some efforts are described in the application to mitigate the business' impacts on the neighborhood. These are as follows:
  • Lighting - None except for “security level lighting” after 10 p.m. “We have minimized the locations to the best of our ability while retaining a level of safety for our client,” the Project Statement says.
  • Visibility - To buffer business operations from homes next to the site on the north and west, the owners propose 6-foot-tall opaque walls, in conjunction with trees, shrubs and grasses.
  • Noise - No outside sound system.
  • Traffic -The existing development plan allows an “occupant load” of 383 people. The Pinery's maximum would be 255 (including 20 staff), meaning less traffic to the location.
  • Appearance and building height - “The tallest point now is 26 feet. A new entry feature in the center of the building would be 30 feet high. Overall, there will be better accent varying roof styles, design features and new character of the outside design at a more appropriate scale,” the Statement reads. Allen elaborated that the design will be in a “Mediterranean style,” with stucco exterior and arched windows.
  • Security - Fencing or the above-mentioned walls would surround the site.
           The Project Statement closes with the comment that revitalizing the site will “bring back a positive asset to the neighborhood. Because our internal operations only allow us to use a portion of the building at one time, while we are proposing building additions, we are actually reducing the occupant load.”
           Public comments are being taken on the proposal by Meggan Yoest of City Planning at 385-5083.

    Westside Pioneer article