By Madison Fantozzi
This story published in the Miami Herald’s South East Neighbors on Sunday, January 19, 2014. You can also read online.
Pinecrest Village Council members rejected a contract on Tuesday that would have brought a sit-down restaurant — and revenue for the village — to Pinecrest Gardens, after neighbors said the project wouldn’t be a good idea for the surrounding area.
Village officials have been working on plans for the restaurant as a way to offset the expense of the Gardens, which lost $1.7 million last year for village taxpayers.
Council members Jeff Cutler and Bob Ross, and Vice Mayor Joseph Corradino voted against the lease agreement while council member James McDonald and Mayor Cindy Lerner voted in support of the proposed contract.
“Backing off at the neighbors’ request will result in more money and time,” Lerner said.
Under the lease the council rejected, the village would have matched half of the tenant’s investment up to $550,000, as well as construct an outside deck at an estimated $35,000 and double the capacity of the site’s septic tanks at about $100,000. The tenant would invest $550,000 to renovate Cypress Hall.
Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez said the village would have seen a return on its upfront costs after six years.
But neighbors questioned the scale of the project and its cost to the village.
“The citizens would never have approved an expenditure of close to a million dollars that will be needed to put together a restaurant that will benefit no one but the cunning partners that have convinced you to provide the monies needed,” Richard Mariani told the council.
Mariani said the village doesn’t need anything big or elaborate, fearing the site would turn into a banquet hall.
However, the council says the revenue generated from the restaurant will be used solely to offset the cost of the Gardens. The tenant would pay $122,000 in annual rent, which would increase 2 percent annually, and give the village 6 percent of the gross revenues.
According to Silver, the sale of alcohol is necessary to guarantee this sort of revenue.
But residents fear permitting alcohol would make the gardens a “destination point” — disturbing the neighborhood and adversely impacting safety.
“We have strict liquor policies,” Silver said. “This won’t be a Flanigans or a rowdy sports bar.”
The council cited a 2010 survey in which 70 percent of those surveyed supported the idea of a food operation at Pinecrest Gardens and a 2012 election in which 62 percent of voters agreed to allow a long-term lease for a restaurant at Cypress Hall. The village and the company were working to sign a 10-year contract.
But neighbors said they were expecting a family restaurant, not a bar.
“We were told this would be 140 seats serving salads and sandwiches and soft drinks,” said neighbor Robert Sperber. “Now it’s being presented as 160 seats serving alcohol.”
But Lerner wants to see something like Coconut Grove’s Peacock Garden Cafe, and promised she would not allow the space to turn into a bar or banquet hall.
And Lerner said neighbors of Pinecrest Gardens don’t speak for all village residents. A village spokeswoman noted Thursday that more than 120 people had signed a petition on change.org to encourage the council to open the restaurant.
Pinecrest Gardens was the site of Parrot Jungle, and when neighbors opposed the owner’s proposal of a banquet hall, the village bought the site in 2002.
“We’re defending the right they gave the neighbors when we stopped Levine from putting a banquet hall in Parrot Jungle,” said Mariani, 77, who has lived in Pinecrest for 25 years. “I never thought we’d be back here again fighting for our neighborhood.”