Proposed restaurant faces strong opposition

If the proverbial kitchen heat wasn’t something that local developers J.C. Demetree and Ted Stein weren’t willing to withstand, they wouldn’t be moving forward with plans to develop a restaurant on Oak Street in the Riverside area of the historic districts.

Less than 12 weeks following submission of the application for The Roost – one that requires a zoning exception, as filed in the Planned Unit Development (PUD) by Steve Diebenow of Driver, McAfee, Peek & Hawthorne – the Land Use and Zoning Committee introduced [Bill 2016-55] on Jan. 12 to City Council.

Despite the forward motion of the developers’ legal representation, a local, passionate opposition group continues to battle development of the proposed 150-seat restaurant on the site of the former Deluxe Dry Cleaner and Launderette.

Addressing one concern, Positive Riverside Optimized Urban Development (PROUD) has sent a five-page letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee about remediation of the site to prevent potential spread of dry cleaning contamination around the site during construction.

Soil contamination questioned

At an informational meeting open to the community on Jan. 20 at Willow Branch Library, PROUD founder Kevin Pettway addressed concerns about groundwater pollution from the former dry cleaning company, which began operating in 1927. Although the site was placed on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Dry Cleaner Program in December 1996, the remediation is still in question.

Adjacent property owners had expressed concerns about soil contamination at a Nov. 12, 2015 community meeting with The Roost developers. The property is number 1,350 out of 1,400 dry cleaning sites ranked in Florida for remediation, according to Diebenow, attorney representing the property owner, Anthony Saleeba, and the developers, Demetree and Stein.

But PROUD believes the low priority for remediation is not reflective of the present or future uses of the property.

“We sent a letter to the Florida DEP. They have responded and have started an investigation,” said Pettway, who has lived for more than 17 years across the street from the proposed development. “They have set the 14th of next month (February) as the deadline to have a formal response.”

The letter, sent to Jon Severson, Florida DEP Secretary, requests the development of the property include remediation of soil and groundwater and asked the FDEP to “immediately conduct a long-awaited site characterization to identify the extent of offsite contamination.” PROUD also requested copies of documentation relating to the dry cleaning facility’s acceptance into the cleanup program in 1996.

The Resident reached out directly to Saleeba for comment on the property regarding waste remediation, but calls were not returned.

‘Sounds like a great idea’

To learn about the efforts opposing The Roost, about two dozen Riverside residents attended the informational meeting where Pettway provided an update on the application.

“The only concession the developers made was to change weekend closing hours from 2 a.m. to midnight with a rider allowing them to change the hours back at their discretion,” said Pettway.

Some residents attending the meeting did not live in the immediate area around the former dry cleaner, but were there to get a better understanding of the opposition to a new restaurant in Riverside.

“I hear comments from people who are not directly surrounding this parcel that a restaurant doesn’t sound like such a bad idea,” said Fred Pope, who lives two lots down from the project site. “People forget, if you’re four blocks away and not affected by what’s happening around the restaurant, then yeah, it sounds like a great idea, but when you consider the people who have to live with it on a daily basis, then it’s a problem.”

Informal traffic study

Since the application was filed Oct. 28, 2015, PROUD has not been idle. Members have canvassed the neighborhood for petitions against the proposed PUD, created a petition on change.org opposing the development, and conducted an informal traffic study.

In an effort to determine the effect increased traffic may have on the neighborhood, especially the length of Oak Street from Stockton Street to Margaret Street, PROUD members counted vehicles during rush hour times for a period of a few weeks.

“There are, on average, 478 vehicles heading into town each morning,” said Roxanne Henkle, who lives across the street from the proposed restaurant. “In the evening, it’s not as concentrated, but there are around 300.”

A study supplied by the Institute of Transportation Engineers enabled PROUD to estimate the restaurant could generate an additional 750 trips a day in that corridor, according to Pope, but no official traffic engineering studies have yet been conducted. “We’re looking at possibly more than 1,000 vehicle trips each day on this block,” he said.

The group has also contacted or met with City Council members, contacted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and gave a presentation to CPAC (Citizen Planning Advisory Committees) District 5.

Next steps

A private meeting was held Jan. 28 by Councilman Love between PROUD, RAP and the developers to see if an accommodation could be reached, but the outcome of that meeting was not available as of press time.

“In the end, our position is pretty straightforward. The development is noncompliant with our basic zoning, it is noncompliant with our historic residential overlay, it is noncompliant with our city’s comprehensive plan, it is far too intensive a use for a residential neighborhood, and the parking would further tax an already stressed area,” said Pettway. “Also, allowing this PUD sets up a very dangerous precedent for our community, making further development a very real likelihood. It is simply the wrong place.”

Currently, Bill 2016-55 is slated to be heard by the Planning Commission on Feb. 4, however, Pettway said according to the office of Councilman Love it will most likely be deferred due to issues with the PUD.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News
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