MEET IN THE PARKING LOT

by JOSUE CRUZ

Heavyweight Gate and bantam-weight Beach Diner square off over Atlantic Beach property

The planned Gate mega-station, looking to be champion of the corner at 535 Atlantic Blvd. in Atlantic Beach, has been facing vocal community opposition since the Gate Petroleum Company purchased the land more than a year ago. In particular, Gate’s plans don’t sit well with the owners of Atlantic Beach’s beloved Beach Diner, which happens to occupy the same corner where the proposed 14-pump station is expected to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Area residents, in concert with the owners of Beach Diner, are looking to the city of Atlantic Beach to weigh in and serve as their corner man in this neighborhood rumble, but the city, bound by city code and fear of possible litigation, may well watch this bout from a few rows back.

The Atlantic Palms Plaza, an aging, two-story commercial building, currently sits half-empty alongside Beach Diner on the tract of land purchased by Gate in October 2014. The shopping center had, in the last few years, flirted with foreclosure until finally being picked up by a holding company based in Dallas, Texas. Under said ownership, the property was never improved and Gate was able to purchase it for a bargain price of $900,000, the result of an approximate 15 percent discount due to the fact that Gate would have to honor the remaining active leases.

One of those leases belongs to Beach Diner owner Barry Adeeb.

Adeeb opened the now-popular diner in 1997 and states that the argument with his new landlord centers around the parking lot and the spaces the gas station will take away.

“I am all for owner property rights,” says Adeeb. “But we came here 19 years ago to be part of this shopping plaza, not part of a gas station.”

According to Adeeb, Gate knows exactly what is at stake and the effect it will have on Beach Diner.

“They are planning on giving me 19 parking spaces. My employees alone will take up 12 of those spaces, which means I will have seven spaces for customers,” Adeeb deadpans. For Adeeb, that would be a deathblow.

Stan Jordan, Beach Diner co-owner alongside Mr. Adeeb, shares that the diner still has 12 years remaining on its lease, but with limited parking, the eatery would scarcely survive a quarter of that time. “Someone is trying to steal the livelihood of our employees and negate our presence in this community. Of course we are going to fight that,” Jordan says. He equates the battle to that of David versus Goliath, and states that this is a defining moment for the city of Atlantic Beach.

Yet, definition itself may be what is convoluting the issues. The diner states that it is and has always been part of the shopping center, which through lease agreement, provides the diner access to the any of the current 80-plus spaces available in the shopping center parking lot. Adeeb states that Gate wants the diner defined as an outparcel, which would make it subject to the allotted 19 parking spaces. “Gate wants the city of Atlantic Beach to reverse its original decision to allow our business to open as part of the shopping center,” says Adeeb.

Planning & Building Director for the city of Atlantic Beach Jeremy Hubsch says that the question of definition is no question at all, because parking spaces are tied to square footage, according to city code. “If the [two-story] building is razed, it negates the need for all of the parking spaces it currently must provide,” states Hubsch. More important, according to Hubsch, the gas station is permitted use without exception. He adds, “The city cannot renege on what is clearly stated in the city code. We must apply the code equitably to all.”

The group of dissenting community members — which consists of many residents of the neighborhood that buttresses up to the parcel — want that equity to take them into account as well.

Atlantic Beach Cares (ABC) — a group which describes itself on its Facebook page as “citizens trying to help save the Beach Diner and create public awareness around all the dangers of a proposed 24x7 Gate mega-gas station” — says Gate will have a negative impact on the residential community in the form of excessive noise, light pollution, dangerous traffic and an increase in criminal activity due to the late hours of operation. ABC members, donning highlighter-yellow shirts emblazoned with a struck-through Gate logo on the back, turned out in droves at the last city of Atlantic Beach Commission meeting on Nov. 23. Their major outcry was that this project was not vetted by the Community Development Board (CDB) and that no project of this size and scope should be decided by city staff members, absent the City Commission with or without the input of the CBD. Hubsch states that the CBD reviews and makes recommendations on applications for variances, use-by-exemption and rezonings, none of which are applicable to the proposed Gate project. Adeeb, however, says, “The situation demands, at minimum, a public hearing. This is yet another gas station, and a huge one at that, in a residential community.” He adds that the same city code that protects businesses also protects the city with specific language on unnecessary duplication and hazardous materials.

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