V.M. Ybor neighbood to City Council: We don't want Trinity Cafe to relocate here

Organizers of the Trinity Cafe have been in business for over a decade in Tampa, providing meals with a top chef at their location at the Salvation Army facility on Florida Avenue. But last year Trinity officials were able to purchase a property on Nebraska Avenue and East 17th Avenue. They subsequently attended some neighborhood meetings, but only after they had purchased the property and made their intent known. And from the looks of things, they've not convinced anybody in the area that it'll be a good thing to have them providing meals in this proposed new location. (The facility won't open until sufficient funds have been raised to renovate; one official told CL on Wednesday that they are 70 percent toward their financial goal.)

Jeffrey Darrey is one of the founding directors of Trinity Cafe. He was the lone person who spoke up for the facility, telling the Council that officials with the restaurant had searched for two and a half years before finding the location in question. He said he had met with members of the neighborhood, but admitted he hadn't changed any minds.

"I know the [move] is unacceptable to them, but what we're trying to do is provide for the homeless. We don't have control over our current circumstances," he said, alluding to pictures distributed by opponents at the meeting who showed homeless loitering near the Salvation Army in the hours after they stopped feeding (which they currently do Monday-Friday).

Cathy Coyle from the city's zoning department was the only city official asked to comment on the situation.

Although most of the public commenters expressed concerns about the homeless, not everyone did.

Rodney Andres said he regularly drives up and down Florida, Nebraska and Tampa Streets, and referred to the homeless as "an eyesore."

Several citizens who don't even live in the neighborhood criticized the idea as well, such as Seminole Heights resident Susan Long, who said if Trinity attempted to relocate to Davis Islands or Hyde Park Village, "there'd be such an uproar." She said that her neighborhood and others to the immediate south in Tampa carry a burden for all of the financial social services in the area. "It's time to share the wealth," she said.

The City Council conducted a lengthy discussion on the issue, expressing frustration equally that they couldn't truly do anything to appease the residents (i.e. deny the Cafe from being built in the neighborhood), while growing weary of their impotence in trying to deal with the exploding issue of homelessness.

There is a private/public group including elected officials from Tampa and Hillsborough County working on the issue, but Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said those members won't even meet with her.

"It was sad to hear people say, 'I don't want this in my neighborhood,'" she said of the neighborhood opponents, though she said she understood their sentiments.

Ultimately, the Council voted to have officials from several different departments, including police, code enforcement and zoning, discuss how to contend with the possible deleterious effects of having the Trinity Cafe in the V.M. neighborhood.

Kelly Bailey of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association recently distributed leaflets in the area, informing local residents that if they were upset about Trinity Cafe coming into the neighborhood to build a facility to feed the homeless at lunchtime, they needed to go to Thursday's City Council meeting.

In terms of organizing, Bailey scored. Dozens of residents of the area north of Ybor City crammed into the Tampa City Council chambers to tell local lawmakers that they didn't want the facility in their area.

But it remains doubtful that their activism will make any difference, at least for now. That's because the cafe has been classified by the city's zoning department as a restaurant, which is permitted to be built in the area, though critics say in fact it's a soup kitchen.

Kim Headland and Bailey — president and vice president, respectively, of the V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association — said the fact that the cafe could be classified as a regular restaurant demonstrated that the city's zoning matrix was antiquated. Headland complained that citizens of the neighborhood have been shut out from having any voice on the volatile issue.

Bailey said that 200-400 homeless people coming into her neighborhood to get a meal will threaten her and her neighbors' quality of life.

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