The owners of a Dubuque business seeking to expand instead on Thursday announced its coming closure in the wake of a petition by neighbors and permit issues.
Milk House Artisan Eatery, Baked Goods & Catering, 620 S. Grandview Ave., announced Thursday morning that it would close on Nov. 22, following the filing of a petition by residents living near the store opposing an application to the city to allow additional indoor seating.
Owner Ali Fuller said the bakery and restaurant applied for a conditional-use permit to create a seating area on the second floor of its building and create outdoor seating as a way to more fully develop the business as a restaurant.
However, shortly before presenting the request to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, Fuller said, she received a petition signed by more than 20 residents opposing the application, arguing the expansion would create issues with parking, noise and garbage.
“It totally took us off guard,” Fuller said. “No one had approached us before with these issues, so it was a surprise.”
The petition was signed by 22 Dubuque residents, many of whom live near the restaurant. It argued that allowing the business to add more seating would create limited street parking options for residents, increase noise and traffic and reduce property values, along with other concerns.
Charles Lane said he signed the petition over concerns that an expansion would eliminate street parking options for seniors living in the neighborhood.
“A lot of people don’t have access to off-street parking,” he said. “It can already be a problem, and it will only get worse if they turn it into a (larger) restaurant.”
During the recent Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, Matt Preston, an attorney representing the petition signatories, revealed that the Milk House property did not have a permit allowing it to operate as a restaurant in any capacity, something Fuller said she was not aware of.
“When we signed the lease agreement with the landlord, we included in that our plans to develop it into a restaurant, but we were never told the property wasn’t approved to do that,” Fuller said.
At the moment, Fuller explained, the Milk House’s serving of baked goods remains legal, but the serving of dinner items as a small restaurant is illegal.
Reached by the Telegraph Herald, John Herrig, the landlord for the Milk House property, said he believes the building should already have a conditional-use permit allowing a restaurant to operate there. He added that he believes the owners of the business could secure the permit if they wanted to.
“It’s been used as a commercial property since the building was built over a hundred years ago,” Herrig said. “It should have come in as a conditional use.”
The permit request was tabled at that meeting until the board’s next meeting. On Thursday, Wally Wernimont, planning services manager for the city, said he has not heard from Fuller on whether she intends to continue with the permit request.
Since opening last year, the Milk House quickly garnered a local following, both for its bakery items and its barbecue. Fuller said she opened the business with the intention of giving South Grandview Avenue neighbors a special place to meet and dine.
“There has been a ton of support for the Milk House,” Fuller said. “We didn’t think there would be opposition to this, but we were surprised to find that there was.”
The Facebook post announcing the business’ closure had garnered hundreds of comments in support of the Milk House as of Thursday night, with many of those people discussing ways to support the business.
When reached by the TH, Preston said those that signed the petition do not wish for the business to close.
“Neither my clients, nor the petition submitted in advance of the Oct. 22 meeting, nor any person who spoke at the meeting, sought to shut down the Milk House bakery,” Preston said. “To the contrary, neighbors expressed gratitude for the bakery’s presence, as is permitted in that zoning area.”
However, Fuller said the development of the Milk House into a restaurant with second-story seating was an essential element of her business plan in order to make the operation profitable. The business, which has five full-time employees, does not bring in enough revenue just operating as a bakery.
For now, Fuller said she sees no future in which the Milk House can continue to operate in the neighborhood.
“The problem is that we know fighting it will probably not give us what we need,” Fuller said. “It doesn’t feel like there is a path to a viable business.”