LAFAYETTE -- Joni Mitchell said it first: "They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot."

That very thing is about to happen in Lafayette.

With the closing of Petar's Restaurant and the arrival of The Cooperage, a "roadhouse-style" restaurant under the direction of Lafayette resident Andrew McCormick, management company Main Street Properties anticipated a need for more parking. They plan to use the current 43 spaces at the old Petar's, bulldoze and pave most of an adjacent parcel of land legally included in the restaurant's footprint.

But one person's parking spot is another person's sculpture garden, and the expanded parking lot means the end of the Lafayette Sculpture Garden, located on part of that "footprint."

Ten years after founding (and continuing to manage) the garden, sculptor Joe Bologna is riding an emotional roller coaster. Last week he was alternately sad and sanguine, still adjusting to swallowing an expected but bitter pill.

"They didn't go out of their way to let us know what was coming," he says. "They owed us nothing, but it caught the gallery a little off guard."

Bologna isn't suggesting the group has been swindled; he freely admits the "tracks in the road were clear." Still, the announcement feels sudden.

"Anyone paying attention could have predicted that they were aiming (with the city's general plan) at allowing the land to be used more intensively," he said. "We saw a development plan for the block six months ago. But we didn't now if it would be two years or two months. We got notice three weeks ago that they were going to actually do it and we should get out."

Carrie Kline is owner of the Art Room, an instructional art studio that leases space to the Lafayette Art Gallery. She said she was aware of the long-term plans for the backyard garden area when she bought the Art Room last November. She says the timing of the planned construction has been a variable; like Bologna, she's hearing "high-pitched, emotional responses" now that the moment has arrived.

"Obviously, it's shaking everybody up," she says. "It's hard because people don't know a concrete answer and people dislike change. There's constant talking about what is happening. Until it's done, you have to live in the here and now," Kline says.

As a subtenant, the Lafayette Art Gallery had no authority to talk to the property manager about the termination, Bologna said.

"It's gone, it's dead. Never to come back. It was only there because the prior landlord said, 'You can put sculpture in my garden,' " he said. "It was a symbiotic thing for 10 years, and who can complain about that?"

Impacts to Kline's business will be minimal, she said. The Art Room no longer holds classes in the garden, and she has been told by Main Street Properties that parents dropping off students can use nearby alternative parking lots during construction.

"I'll miss the sculpture garden and would love to see them create it in front of the gallery," Kline says. "What can we do? Open up the front part or use a smaller backyard space that will still be available. There's a lot of negative energy, but what can we do to make it better? That's what I want to think about."

Neither Kline nor Bologna have spoken directly or specifically about solutions with Main Street Properties. Phone calls to Craig Semmelmeyer, principal of Main Street Properties, seeking comment were not returned.

Lafayette Gallery director Carla Gelbaum's thoughts are of gratitude for the Lafayette Community Foundation's support of the sculpture garden.

"We feel fortunate that we could have this sculpture garden for over a decade," Gelbaum says. "It's the only one in Contra Costa County. We could showcase many different sculptors. We're sad we will no longer have that space."

Art Gallery member artists aren't planning a formal appeal, Gelbaum says, but they do intend to meet and discuss how they will show and secure sculpture in the future. And they are realistic about their prospects in a city whose general plan may someday not include their organization.

"All the former tenants are no longer here; we're the last ones left. They do not have plans for our building for a while," she said. "We'd consider moving to another location, but we won't move unless they decide to use the building for something else."

Bologna says Lafayette artists are "a strong association," and if the art gallery ever moves to a new place with a secure garden, he and his fellow sculptors would welcome an invitation to rejoin the gallery.

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