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Menu limited for Packard propertyOptions seem few for the site of a quirky diner and garage.
"Al Packard dreamed about resurrecting the past at his businesses on Madison Avenue. But the businesses have failed, and the question now is whether the property itself has a future.It would be expensive to remodel the building for anything other than automobile-service use, said Pavilion co-owner Jeff Brein, representing a group of local investors currently looking at the property.Packard built an auto-service business. But it wasn't just any old garage. This one was a brown-stucco replica of a 1930s-era Sinclair station.And he built a restaurant, the Blue Water Diner. But it wasn't just any old restaurant. Packard found an antique diner in Pennsylvania, trucked it to Bainbridge Island and restored it.He built himself an apartment over the garage, with a balcony facing Madison Avenue. And as part of the balcony's railing, a substantial triangular frontpiece is inscribed, to commemorate the grand opening - Packard 1997.Some wags remarked even then that it looked like a mausoleum.You have to admire what he tried to do, said Garrett Haxby, co-owner of the Madison Avenue Garage. Al built from his heart instead of his wallet. Unfortunately, he never figured out how to draw a line connecting the two.Packard closed the diner over the Memorial Day weekend, and shut down the garage's oil-change operation at the same time. He tried to maintain the car-wash and detailing business, but that, too, has now folded.Packard blamed the failures on a few bad employees. But the diner's food, which many found to be on the heavy side of hearty, garnered little praise. And no one figured out why the oil-change business didn't succeed here after Packard had successfully run a similar business in Silverdale.Plainly disheartened by the closures, Packard has little to say these days. Other than to confirm that he will not reopen the businesses, Packard declined to comment for this article.The question now is what happens to the site.On the plus side, the property has a prime location, and is zoned for virtually any commercial use except auto services. The land and buildings have an appraised value for tax purposes of $604,000, according to county records. But the buildings are so customized that they may not lend themselves to other types of business.Apartments over automotive garages are not in high demand. And parking is limited, leading to questions about whether the site could accommodate both a successful restaurant and a successful auto-service business.Not to mention that plaque-like portion of the balcony with Packard's name on it.One possibility is currently on the table. The owners of the Pavilion on Madison Avenue have asked the city to approve moving the Madison Avenue Garage onto the site.But that proposal may be dead on arrival. The garage shows no sign of wanting to abandon its present location on the corner of Madison and Wyatt.Packard's property has less room, less access, less parking and would probably cost more money, said Ranji Dhatt, Haxby's co-owner. I can't see any benefit to us in moving there.The auto-service businesses that Packard ran are all non-conforming uses -- uses predating the present city zoning ordinance, and no longer allowed in the area. Permits for the enterprise were denied by the planning department, but Packard sued and had the decision overturned in court.Since the grandfathered uses were abandoned when the business failed over the summer, the city would have to approve any different use of the property, or any remodeling.The application from Pavilion owners George Lobisser and Jeff Brein argues that since the Madison Avenue Garage and attached car wash are also non-conforming uses, moving the garage from the Wyatt corner to the Packard property would reduce the total number of non-conforming uses.Reducing the number of such uses would bring the situation on the ground into closer conformity with the zoning code, they argue. Packard said last week that other than the Lobisser-Brein option, he has no efforts under way to market the property. RedevelopmentThe Lobisser-Brein application is the first step in a sequence that may someday result in a co-ordinated development on the west side of Madison Avenue from the Packard property northward to the Wyatt corner.City approval is only the first step, Brein said. If we can't get that approval, everything else is moot.If the city approves the change but the Madison Avenue garage declines to move, Brein is uncertain whether the partners would exercise their option to buy the Packard property. The decision would depend at least in part on the cost of the property.Brein said if he and Lobisser buy the Packard property, the diner would be leased to someone who would use it as a restaurant.Lobisser owns the land under the Madison Avenue Garage and the Four Swallows Restaurant. Both businesses have leases good until 2008, and Brein emphasized that the lease obligations would be honored. But when the leases expire, or sooner if the tenants voluntarily move, Lobisser, Brein and their partners plan to redevelop the ground north from the Pavilion to Wyatt.We will put in at least one level of covered parking, and maybe more, Brein said. That will take care of parking at the Pavilion as well as for the new development.The historic yellow house in which the restaurant is located might be retained in the development, with new construction being built around it.The owners might also take advantage of the sloping terrain to improve the appearance of the area, he said.We have thought about putting a lid on the Pavilion parking lot, and putting pathways and garden space on it, Brein said.The lid would be roughly the same level as the parking lot for the Four Swallows Restaurant. We are in no hurry, Brein said. We're very bullish on the future of the island. If we have to wait until 2008, so be it. "