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North End backyard beer garden is back, but with restrictions

A beer garden in a North End backyard will once again open for business this spring. 

For months, neighbors near Franklin House expressed differing opinions over the business’s operation of a backyard watering hole for guests and the public alike without the proper zoning from the city. After a Tuesday hearing, Boise City Council voted 5-1 to grant the beer garden, known as The Backyard, a special exception to continue operating. 

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It didn’t come free, though. In order to get the special exception, Franklin House owners Jen Bury and Gavin O’Neal agreed to a list of restrictions to try and limit neighborhood impact. The special exception will come back to the council yearly for review, and if they find issues, they can rescind it.

The rules

Restrictions include:

  • Limited operation from Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • Open from March 15 through October 15
  • 35 customer occupancy limit
  • All patrons must exit out the back gate at 10 p.m. instead of onto 15th Street
  • Outdoor TVs will not be used when The Backyard is open to the general public
  • Food trucks with electric generator are limited to two days a week, one at a time
  • A full-time caretaker on site

The property is currently for sale. In December, the owners said they put it up for sale after Planning & Zoning unanimously voted to deny them permission to operate The Backyard, but if City Council approved it they would stay and keep their business. One of the new restrictions suggested by City Council President Clegg requires the city to sign off on The Franklin House transferring the property and the special exception to a new owner. 

Menace? Or community asset?

The Franklin House opened in the summer of 2019, with a business model that defied Boise’s current zoning code. It included a bed and breakfast, but also served beer and wine to customers of The Backyard, hosted special events, acoustic music shows, and the occasional food truck. After neighbors complained, Boise’s code compliance team told Franklin House about a year later it could no longer operate The Backyard because it was in violation of the property’s residential zoning. 

This sparked a split amongst neighbors, turmoil in the North End Neighborhood Association, and hours of hearings before Boise Planning & Zoning and City Council in December. Some nearby neighbors didn’t like the noise, the presence of alcohol on a residential street, and extra traffic. But, others loved The Backyard, the people they met there and the vibrancy it brought to the block. 

When Boise City Council first took up the Franklin House, they were also conflicted on the unique business’s place in the zoning code and the impact on the neighbors. To find a solution, they asked the Franklin House to go into talks with city staff to come up with a set of restrictions and return for another hearing.

Council wrestles with The Backyard

The sign for The Backyard behind The Franklin House. Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

In order to gain approval for a special exception, Franklin House had to prove it would have an equal or lesser impact to the neighbors than a business normally allowed in the R3 zone. Council Member Patrick Bageant, who was the Franklin House’s strongest supporter in December, said he felt the business met this threshold and made sense in the area because of its close proximity to more commercial areas. 

“Although this is at the edge of the North End, I think most of us are pretty familiar with this 10 block stretch,” he said. “It has a feel that is transitional and in transitional places, transitional things happen, including an organic community gathering place.”

Council President Elaine Clegg and City Council Member TJ Thomson agreed with Bageant, saying they thought the restrictions on the Franklin House and the annual review requirement would curb impacts to the neighborhood enough to keep it open.

But, the Franklin House’s long operation without the proper zoning designation rankled City Council Member Holli Woodings and City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez. Woodings called the decision on The Backyard “a low point” of her time on council because while she recognized the appeal of the business and wanted to visit herself, it was illegal. 

She said she believed Bury and O’Neil knew they operated The Backyard illegally before the city shut them down. At one point during the hearing, she tried to consult with legal staff asking if the city could allow The Franklin House to continue, but also cite them for the months of illegal operation. Mayor Lauren McLean said it would not be appropriate for legal staff to answer that question “off the cuff” in the meeting, but she could ask later.  

“And now what we have here is someone asking for a CUP who I believe knew were operating illegally and are asking our forgiveness instead of our permission, which is a horrible place for us to be in,” Woodings said.

But, when it came time to vote, Woodings opted to vote in support of the special exception without much further comment on the matter.

Only Sanchez voted against it. She said her initial thought was to agree with Woodings that The Franklin House knowingly operated illegally in a “sneaky” way, but she doesn’t know for sure. The possibility of this vote encouraging business owners not to do proper research before opening businesses of this nature troubled her though, and spurred her lone opposing vote.

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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