At St. Pete City Hall Wednesday afternoon, the message was clear: pretty much no one wants a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through near the southwest corner of First Avenue North and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
And though they had some technicalities with which they had to wrestle, it was clear the city's Development Review Commission heard it.
The commission unanimously rejected Orlando developer Jonathan Moore's request for a variance that would have allowed a drive-through business at 913 1st Ave. N., the former site of a Verizon store.
Namely, a Dunkin' Donuts.
Speaker after speaker gave a litany of reasons the commission ought to block the proposal: nearby small businesses, the local character of the area, public safety.
Many were small business owners and employees: Black Crow Coffee Co., Red Mesa Mercado, Star Booty Salon and natural body care shop Bodhi Basics.
Many remarked on the local identity of the area; how it took years to build and how badly a corporate fast food franchise would diminish it.
“All of us independently have helped create the revitalization of the area, and businesses like this will definitely take away from that vibe,” said Matt Kaye, owner of The Bends, a nearby bar.
The argument that ultimately won out, though, was the one about safety.
Namely, that the area is designed to be pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, and that adding more cars to the neighborhood would potentially threaten public safety.
Some speakers cited other areas with fast-food drive-throughs, namely on 4th Street North, which is home to a Chick-fil-A and a Dunkin' Donuts. Those franchises often attract long lines of cars that back up into the thoroughfare, posing a potential hazard for pedestrians and drivers alike.
The commissioners had warned against using emotional pleas about mom-and-pops and the character of the area, given that they are legally only able to weigh the facts in each case they consider. Rejecting a proposal on grounds that aren't legal or technical could potentially draw a lawsuit for the city.
Moore argued that the site was far enough from Central Avenue that it wouldn't affect the character of the district, and that safety was a big consideration in creating the proposal — to no avail.
The commission could only reject the drive-through component on Wednesday. Should Dunkin' return with a request for a store without a drive-through, they'd likely have to take up the request again, and their hands might be tied.
“I appreciate the passion and I appreciate that you brought up safety issues, bike issues, things that could conflict,” Commissioner Patricia Castellano told the audience after public comment concluded. “I just don't see how you can even start to [create a drive-through] with this site.”
Commissioners did, however, seem interested in examining a master plan for the area for any provisions that could help protect the neighborhood and its businesses from corporate intrusion at the site.