Plans for new sports grill stirs concern in Jacksonville’s only Orthodox Jewish neighborhood

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Village Inn Restaurant closed in 2016 at the corner of San Jose Boulevard and Haley Road. Now, there’s plans for a new sports grill.

Matt Harris owns Time Out Sports Grill on Beach Boulevard. He’s planning to open a second location in the vacant lot on San Jose. He grew up in the area.

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“Growing up as kids — we’d ask, where do we want to go out to eat? Where do we want to eat after basketball practice? The only option was the Ale House. This will give us another spot. Another opportunity,” he said.

The property isn’t zoned for liquor because it is less than 500 feet from a house of worship, but Harris is filing for a variance with the city. Alcohol is stirring concern in the only Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Northeast Florida.

“It’s a huge concern for us that my kids would have to pass by where people would be entering and exiting very likely after drinking,” Sarah Herman said. She lives just across the street on Haley Road. “It would just change the entire flavor and peacefulness of our neighborhood for good.”

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Like many in the neighborhood, Herman is an Orthodox Jew and walks to service during Sabbath from Friday to Saturday night following the rules of her religion.

“Even after dark, there are tons of children, people in wheelchairs, walking to and from services,” she said.

“Liquor and children just don’t mix,” George Mecke, another neighbor, said.

But there’s several concerns from neighbors who don’t identify as Jewish as well.

Another neighbors who lives directly across the street from the empty lot told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant that he’s concerned about his property value.

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Harris said he’s willing to hire security guards to help families cross the road. At the April 22 Planning Commission meeting, the issue was tabled until this Thursday. Mecke said he brought a petition with more than 70 signatures.

The location is within 500 feet of four area houses of worship:

  • Korean Central Baptist
  • Jacksonville Jewish Center
  • Etz Chaim Synagogue
  • Chabad Lubavitch

If the city filed a variance, it would be the second for a liquor license this year. In 2020, the city granted 17. In 2019, it gave 15.

Neighbors are also concerned about the increase in noise along Haley Road, which is more residential that San Jose Boulevard, which runs perpendicular. Harris said they will have an outdoor patio, but he is planning on keeping it on the San Jose side and said neighbors won’t be able to see it from Haley Road.

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A final plan will be presented at Thursday’s commission meeting.

Safety has been a main concern for the neighborhood after 57-year-old Esther B. Ohayon was killed on her way to Yom Kippur services in the same neighborhood in 2013.

Rabbi Yaakov Fisch worked with local officials to increased safety.

“We have to look at the entire situation. There’s a lot of concern, and we just have to continue to have positive dialogue,” he said. “Our goal is to have a safe neighborhood.”