Gate, Beach Diner fight over parking heads to Atlantic Beach Commission hearing

Gate plans to build a 14-pump station on Atlantic Boulevard, and limit parking spaces provided for popular nearby restaurant

Around lunchtime, on any given day, vehicles pack the Beach Diner parking lot in Atlantic Beach — a fact owner Barry Adeeb knew before he hired a company to track the business’ Sunday traffic.

The data gathered on those Sundays form part of an argument Adeeb and diner co-owner Stan Jordan are building against the Gate Petroleum Company, which now owns the Atlantic Palms shopping center where the diner is located. More than a year ago, the company bought the 1.8 acre property on Atlantic Boulevard for approximately $1.6 million, according to the Jacksonville Property Appraiser’s Office.

Gate officials plan to build a 14-pump gas station and a 6,400-square-foot convenience store after they demolish the existing strip commercial center and adjacent parking lot.

However, an ongoing dispute between Gate and the diner owners over the number of parking spaces the corporation intends to leave for diner customers currently stalled plans.

In early February, the City of Atlantic Beach approved the preliminary site development permit for the gas station.

The following week, Adeeb and his attorney, Paul Eakin, filed an appeal against the city and propelled the issue toward a quasi-judicial hearing with the Atlantic Beach Commission. A date for that hearing is not set.

Adeeb and Eakin requested the city consider a location bigger than the City Hall Chambers so public access is not restricted. Adeeb expects approximately 500, possibly 1,000, residents will attend.

While Adeeb’s dispute with Gate is over how many spaces he is entitled to, residents in the nearby SaltAir neighborhood contend the gas station would negatively impact the surrounding community, especially people living on Sturdivant Street.

The two-lane road runs directly behind the proposed site, along a semi-residential strip bordered on one side by businesses and the other side by homes. Residents enlisted the help of land use attorney Jane West, who worked with residents of St. Augustine stop the construction of a 7-Eleven convenience store and its 12-pump station. Through West, they intend to file an appeal as well.

DAVID AND GOLIATH BATTLE

Despite the fact Adeeb and Atlantic Beach citizens have separate concerns, they stand on the same side of what some call a “David and Goliath” battle. They don’t want the gas station.

Staff at the City of Atlantic Beach, however, say they may be disappointed.

The land Gate wants to built on is zoned commercial general, which allows for an automobile service station with minor vehicle repairs and an accessory car wash.

According to previous statements made by staff, anything less than what is proposed in the city’s code — such as the gas station sans car wash and a repair station — would be allowed.

Adeeb, though, doesn’t plan on giving up.

On Aug. 16, a Sunday during which he kept track of the cars outside his business, Adeeb calculated a total of 587 cars throughout the day. He never had less than 40 cars in the lot and peaked at 83 cars just before noon.

If Gate moves in and limits his parking to 19 spaces, he said he would have to close the diner, a popular breakfast and lunch establishment for nearly two decades. However, he believes the city is not following its own code and hopes to prove that to the City Commissioners during the appeal hearing.

In 1997, Adeeb applied for a variance to build an addition to his restaurant, which at the time was a former doughnut shop located at 501 Atlantic Blvd. The variance was granted unanimously provided the applicant met code requirements for seating, parking and landscape.

According to Adeeb, the code back then stipulated either one space for every two seats for restaurants or four spaces for each 1,000-square-feet of leasable area in a shopping plaza. At the time, the diner was found to be in a shopping plaza and ended up with 103 spaces.

Had it been considered a restaurant, its 119 seats — 94 inside and 25 outside — would have provided 59 spaces, a number still considerably higher than the 19 proposed by Gate, Adeeb said.

INEXPERIENCED STAFF TO BLAME?

Since Adeeb opened his diner, Atlantic Beach altered its code. Now, restaurants must meet a smaller parking space requirement, a law most likely set in place to accommodate for the congested lots in the Beaches Town Center. Businesses need only one space for every four seats.

Both Adeeb’s lease with Gate and his lease with the former owners listed his business as part of the Atlantic Palms shopping plaza.

Gate disagrees. Jeremy Hubsch, Atlantic Beach building and zoning director, does not disagree, but said the diner would end up with lease than 19 parking spaces if it fights to be labeled a shopping plaza. Even more, he said, the variance Adeeb hinges his argument on applies only to construction, not to parking.

“It is true the variance is still in effect,” he said. “But it doesn’t legally convey any parking to him.”

Once again, the two parties stand divided.

“Gate contends Beach Diner has to be applicable to current code,” Adeeb said. “The law says you have to grandfather us in. They don’t get to make that choice. The City of Atlantic Beach is not complying with its own code.”

He said he blames the city’s confusion on inexperienced staff working the case.

Hubsch, who has a master’s degree in urban planning and seven years under his belt in the planning department, stands firm. The city made the right decision by granting Gate permission to move forward.

He even added the more than 1,000 petitions collected by the group Atlantic Beach Cares, a citizen-based campaign against Gate, will not have much influence on the actual process.

Glenn Shuck, whose house faces the proposed site and who is one of the organizers behind Atlantic Beach Cares, said he wants commissioners to understand the potential dangers associated with building a large-scale gas station directly across the street from a residential community and less than five blocks from the beach.

Concerned citizens worry the gas station will negatively impact traffic along the two-lane Sturdivant Street, which is already heavily trafficked. They believe crime could increase as transients — whether homeless or simply tourists — stop to use Gate’s services.

NEIGHBORHOOD WON’T FORGET

Shuck shares several concerns with other homeowners along his street. How much light pollution would a 24-hour, mega-gas station emit? Would living so close to the facility contaminate his air? How will he possibly be able to keep up with the litter he believes could be generated as a result of a nearby gas station?

“From a neighborhood perspective, it is aggressive what Gate is proposing,” Shuck said. “Both in the number of pumps, the size and configuration on the convenience store and in the hours of operation. We feel strongly it is just not wanted or needed. We have plenty of gas — one block away and there’s no wait. No wait to get gas. It’s not like they are bringing something to the table we are lacking.”

If the gas station does come in, he added, there already is talk of boycotts.

Instead, he wants Gate to consider sitting down with residents to discuss options outside of a gas station. Even a small scale service station would still bring in the issues the residents are trying to fight: light pollution, noise, crime, traffic.

Currently, a yellowish, vacant building surrounded by parking lots and an undeveloped lot sit across from Shuck’s Atlantic Beach home. While he admits the building – as outdated as it is – is not the prettiest sight, he fears it is a thousand times better than any gas station.

“I promise that this neighborhood and this community will not have a short memory if this gas station goes in,” Shuck concluded.

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