District Advisory Board votes in favor of extra parking for the Hill Bar and Grill

WICHITA — The issue of whether developers can get extra parking for a bar and grill in the former Barrier’s space is heading to City Council.

A District Advisory Board considered the issue Monday with a packed audience in attendance. Many of the 70 or so people who were there are opposed to the 2 a.m. closing time brothers Brad and Brent Steven want for their new Hill Bar and Grill.

The board voted 8 to 1 in favor of allowing building owners Christian Ablah and W.G. Farha to raze a duplex near the building for more parking.

City Council likely will consider the issue early in the new year.

Mike’s Wine Dive owners to open the Hill Bar and Grill in the former Barrier’s space

Brothers Brent (left) and Brad Steven in front of the former Barrier’s building at Douglas and Oliver, which they’re going to transform into the Hill Bar and Grill.

WICHITA — As some residents of Crown Heights are organizing a group to protest a bar and grill going in the former Barrier’s space at Douglas and Oliver, the restaurateurs hoping to open it are ready to share details.

Mike’s Wine Dive owners Brent and Brad Steven plan to open the Hill Bar and Grill — named for the hill in College Hill — in 5,100 square feet of the building in March.

Mike’s is in the center at the northwest corner of the intersection. The Hill will be on the northeast corner.

Though Brad Steven says the Hill will be a great place to catch a game, he says, “It’s not going to be a sports bar.”

“Our focus will be a wide selection of craft beers as well as American food,” he says. “Basically, we’re going to be specializing in beers the way we specialize in wine at Mike’s.”

There will be 25 beers on tap and craft beers from around the world.

Brent Steven describes it as “kind of like an ale house.”

He says the idea is “a place that’s totally different than Mike’s.”

Where Mike’s is more fine dining, he says, he and his brother envision the Hill as “more of a hangout spot.”

“It will appeal to a wider audience than Mike’s does.”

There will be seating for about 150 customers.

There will be an outside patio facing Douglas that is within the front of the building and will serve as an area for smoking. There will be another patio that wraps around the east side of the building.

There will be another 2,400 square feet left in the building for another business.

The Hill’s hours aren’t set yet, but the Stevens are thinking 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. most days and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the weekends.

The hours are a key issue for some residents.

“You can go on the news and see all the time what happens in Old Town at 2 a.m.,” says Melinda Foley, who is president of the Crown Heights Neighborhood Association.

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Bennington Place executive apartments one step closer to approval

WICHITA — Developers Mike Brand and Steve Clark are one step closer to being able to build their Bennington Place executive apartments near the southeast corner of 21st and Maize.

The planning commission on Thursday voted 11 to 2 in favor of allowing the 130-unit complex.

There were what one person calls a “boatload” of protesters attending, and there was a petition against the apartments with more than 100 signatures.

Now, a vote goes to a District Advisory Board Nov. 7. The earliest it’s likely to then go to City Council for a final vote would be Dec. 6.

City zoning codes are ranked from least intensive to most intensive.

Commercial uses are ranked at a higher level — meaning they create more traffic, among other things — than residential uses.

Brand’s property is already zoned limited commercial, so planners would view multifamily zoning — which he’s seeking — as less intensive.

As Brand told Have You Heard? earlier this week, he’s already tried to do something commercial there with no success.

“Over the years, I just haven’t gotten the right person in there,” he said. “There’s not a lot of commercial going on right now.”

Which is why he said he thought of apartments.

“It’s a great location for apartments.”

Frida’s Mexican Grill struggles with “soap opera” rezoning situation

WICHITA — Bridge repairs near 21st and Amidon aren’t all that are hurting Frida’s Mexican Grill.

The popular restaurant is struggling to get proper zoning for its special events room so customers can have parties with dancing.

“We can make a soap opera right now,” owner Mario Quiroz says of his situation.

When Quiroz, who also is an owner in La Mesa Mexican Restaurant, first opened near Thai Binh grocery on West 21st in April 2008, he planned to have a comedy club attached to his restaurant. He envisioned it as a “Loony Bin but for the Hispanic community.” He had a liquor license and a cabaret license, which was allowed in that shopping center’s community unit plan.

“I decided not to do that,” he says of the comedy, explaining that most comedians want to be paid up front. “It’s too risky.”

So Quiroz began having events in the space instead, but then he learned he needs a dance hall permit. He can’t get that without an amendment to the CUP. That’s because an establishment with a liquor license, a cabaret license and a dance hall license is considered a nightclub, and the CUP doesn’t allow a nightclub.

Quiroz has been struggling to get the amendment since September. At first, he says, it sailed through the District Advisory Board, and then the planning commission approved it.

But then a complaint from a concerned neighbor derailed his request.

“I’m not planning to have . . . a nightclub,” Quiroz says. “I want to have the choice to provide whatever my customer asks for.”

Then-city Councilwoman Sharon Fearey deferred a decision. Now, Quiroz is working with new Councilwoman Janet Miller.

“I’m asking for a decision, that’s all I want,” Quiroz says.

If the City Council votes this month to reverse its deferment decision, then it could vote on the amendment in early July. But Quiroz is not sure he’ll make it until then.

“There’s been several issues trying to make this place work,” Quiroz says. The bridge construction is the most pressing one now. He says the plan is to open at least a couple of lanes in the next couple of weeks.

“If they stay longer, I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive,” he says.

The economy, of course, is hurting as well.

“You can’t really imagine how hard it is to survive nowadays,” Quiroz says.

If the rezoning isn’t approved, he says he’ll look at moving elsewhere. Quiroz has a following that’s likely to keep dining at Frida’s wherever it moves.

“I know the restaurant concept will work if I just move east or west,” he says.

But that’s not Quiroz’s first choice.

“I don’t want to give up.”