Trinity Cafe move to V.M. Ybor continues to reverberate at Tampa City Council

Neighborhood activist Kelly Bailey warned the Council that she will be watching and documenting what goes on when the Cafe begins operations, and will be calling on code enforcement, Tampa Police, the Council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn's office to deal with any negative repercussions.

Kim Headland, president of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association, slammed Trinity officials for saying they want to be great neighbors when, in her view, that hasn't been the case so far. She also said the city had "failed our neighborhood for years," and thus "we have lost faith in the city to address the most basic of issues."

Judy Greer said she sees the deleterious impact of the homeless in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood all the time, referring to water bottles full of urine spotted where people are known to sleep. She added that she was not talking about the "legitimate poor," but was talking about "addicts." She also said these homeless people led a "selfish lifestyle."

Feeling frustrated that there was no way to do anything to appease angry constituents, the Council recently called upon Catherine Coyle from the city's Planning Department to review options when it comes to licensing social service agencies. While she went over some possibilities, Councilman Mike Suarez asked if the city currently can do anything about restaurants (which is how the Trinity Code is classified) that have long lines that flow outside their building and into city streets.

City Attorney Julia Cole said there are opportunities through business regulations codes where the city could carve out a category — possibly by looking at amendments to a right-of-way code.

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said the city needs to find a way to hold a public hearing when complaints surface about any restaurant or bar opening in a neighborhood. "If it's going to involve large groups of people, then it needs the input from the neighborhood. You need to come up with a way to do that," she told Cole.

But Cole responded that constitutionally speaking, she couldn't find anything in the law that would allow the city to create a regulation because of who the user is (i.e., one that provides meals for the homeless). She said a change could occur through land use regulations, but that would mean every restaurant opening in the city would have to go through such a special process, which she promised would mean "a lot of public hearings."

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione then offered that the city could design a regulation similar to how state laws are written in Tallahassee, where the bill never mentions a specific company or agenda, but "if you read them closely there's only one group that would fill all the parameters set." Further discussion focused on crafting an ordinance that would restrict only restaurants that served a certain number of people, an approach that was rejected because it would pertain to restaurants other than Trinity Cafe (Golden Corral was mentioned), and "we would be putting regulations on businesses that we’ve never done before."

As a way to address concerns that the homeless will be loitering in the neighborhood for hours before the Trinity Cafe opens for business every weekday, a Tampa Police officer told the council that the Cafe plans to open their facility each day at 6 a.m. and allow people to sit inside before they officially begin serving meals at 10:30 a.m.

Upon reading that Trinity official Cindy Davis called reports of illicit behavior among the clients "speculation," and said they would evaluate such behavior at the new facility if it occurs, City Councilwoman Yolie Capin said she has volunteered at Trinity Cafe in the past, and there is definitely loitering and littering now occurring at the current N. Florida Avenue location. "They don't need to evaluate it as it arises," she said. "It is happening."

Planning Department Zoning Administrator Catherine Coyle will come back to Council later to discuss some possible solutions to the zoning issues, so that the city doesn't find itself again impotent to deal with neighborhood concerns about a soup kitchen moving into a residential neighborhood.

The Trinity Cafe's upcoming move into V.M. Ybor has roiled that neighborhood, with dozens of denizens from the community speaking out at recent Tampa City Council meeting against the establishment moving to a new spot on E. 17 Avenue and Nebraska. The residents fear the influx of homeless people will adversely affect the community.

Although most members of the Council have publicly expressed sympathy from the dais, current city law does not permit that they have any control over approving the facility because the cafe has been zoned "commercial-general."

The Trinity Cafe has existed for over a decade serving high quality free lunches every weekday to the homeless and others at their location at the Salvation Army on N. Florida Avenue. But they've wanted to have their own location for years, and are excited about moving into the new facility.

At today's meeting, a few community members pressed the Council to be vigilant regarding loitering and littering issues once the Cafe begins serving meals at the new location.

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