Onion Tears

The gentrifying Heights can pit residents and businesses against each other

While the battle appears to be over, it is another example of the clashes between businesses and residences in the rapidly gentrifying Heights area.

Mark Van Doren is a building designer with office space near Onion Creek. He says he visits the cafe four times a day for espresso, and his amped-up voice doesn't cast doubt on that claim.

"I think some members of the HHA are assholes…make it childish assholes," says Van Doren, himself a member of the association's land use committee. He notes that the Heights has several business-oriented streets, and behind every one is a residential area. "If you're a dumbass and build your house on a commercial street, shame on you. That's your fault."

Mosely promised that his cafe would be upscale, but 
neighbors still protested.
Daniel Kramer
Mosely promised that his cafe would be upscale, but neighbors still protested.

Van Doren, who has designed several neighborhood buildings, including the Yale Street Lofts, argues that the HHA is fanatical about preserving classic Heights bungalows at the expense of progress. He says the group recently balked at a proposed Starbucks in a building Van Doren was designing near 19th and Yale, and that Starbucks got scared and fled.

Echoing Van Doren's words is Waverly Nolley, an attorney and developer who has been building in the Heights since 1989. Roughly 30 of his bright-colored neo-Victorian homes can be spotted throughout the neighborhood. Nolley says the HHA has been trying to stall construction on his property at 540 Heights Boulevard by fighting building permits.

Nolley, who is black, says, "Everything the association does is based on personal preference. It's an issue of isolation and discrimination."

But HHA president Byron Pettit, a soft-spoken Heights resident since 1989, says the group has no fascist agendas. It wants to embrace different ethnic groups, not discriminate against them, he says.

"I say, if you want diversity, come to the Heights," says Pettit. He argues that in a city with no zoning and in an area as historic as the Heights (more than 100 sites have received historical designation), the association must protect the feel of the community. Several great homes have been lost; the unique Cooley mansion was demolished in the mid-'60s.

The association isn't anti-Starbucks, Pettit says. "But to have one on every corner of Heights Boulevard, yes, [we're against that]."

Pettit says he received hate e-mails from supporters of Onion Creek, and that the HHA was simply trying to mediate between Mosely and homeowners, who had no way of knowing what the establishment would be like before it opened.

"Mr. Mosely took a horrible-looking building and now, from the exterior, it looks great," he says. "But if a bar that's going to stay open until 2 a.m. was going to open right next to your house, how would you feel?"

Mosely, however, remains unconvinced. At times, he doesn't seem to want to give up the larger war.

"I want the people in the community to wake up and look around," he says. "We have nothing over here, why is that? There's a reason for that: the association and how they do business in this neighborhood."

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