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Rollin' Oats expands all but parking

By PAUL SWIDER
Published April 4, 2007


With its health food business strong, Rollin' Oats outgrew its building but is striving not to outgrow its place in the neighborhood.

"We needed to expand because sales continued to grow," said Bert Swain, one of the partners who runs the cafe and market. "You either grow or die."

The store recently completed a $1-million expansion that nearly doubled its size but raised parking issues.

"The majority of the time, it's enough parking," Swain said of the 40 spaces, "but during busy times, it's not."

Swain said circumstances were exacerbated when his renovation triggered a city demand for extra landscaping that would have cut seven spaces. He said he moved some green space to retain those spots, but still would like more parking.

"We improved the building, and we got penalized," Swain said.

The city was about to recommend more parking on a nearby lot, but neighbors complained.

"The neighbors on that block think it would be really intrusive and unsightly to have parking in the middle of their block," said Mo Eppley, the president of the Greater Woodlawn Neighborhood Association.

Swain was seeking to get his employees out of the customer lot by building spaces on a residential lot across the alley behind his store in a neighborhood of single-family homes. The matter was set to go before the city's Environmental Development Commission today, but Swain withdrew it.

"We don't want to do anything to upset the neighbors," he said. "We thought it would have been beneficial to get rid of a crack house, but the neighborhood association got upset about it."

Swain's plan was to knock down a run-down duplex and build a walled, landscaped 11-space parking lot to keep overflow parking off neighborhood streets. Eppley said she's never heard of a problem with parking on the streets. The plan is on hold for a redesign while the business absorbs its other changes.

Swain had operated the store along with 11 Richard's Whole Foods locations until selling the others more than two years ago.

Over the last year, Swain took the existing 5,200-square-foot store, moved the aisles, added a new kitchen and dining area, expanded cooler and shelf space, and added products. In the process he had to rebuild the entrance, remove a load-bearing interior wall and drop a 6,000-pound support beam through the roof.

The store now has room for 130 kinds of beer and 160 varieties of wine. It will soon open a specialty cheese display and has more than doubled its aisle of all-organic produce. The interior appears more airy and orderly, unlike its former cramped offerings.

Rollin' Oats parking circumstance is not unique, said John Hixenbaugh, the city's zoning official. Many businesses on old, shallow commercial lots are constrained by parking, which is why the city sometimes allows special zoning exceptions for more car space.

Eppley said she's seen the city approve those exceptions, almost always siding with businesses over neighbors. She agreed the building Swain would raze would be no loss, and conceded that a well-designed lot could blend with homes, but she fears further expansion. She said neighbors like the store, but want its owners to be considerate.

"To our mind, less intrusive would be no parking lot at all," she said. "But if they'll make a nice, pretty wall, we'll take what we can get."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

If you go

Rollin' Oats

2842 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. 895-4910.