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For Oceanside Grill in Flagler Beach, a Parking Lot Becomes Epic Battleground Over City Rules

| December 3, 2014

The lot at the heart of the controversy is the vacant space near the center of the image, along South Central Avenue, behind Oceanside Grill, which fronts on State Road A1A. Click on the image for larger view.

The lot at the heart of the controversy is the vacant space near the center of the image, along South Central Avenue, behind Oceanside Grill, which fronts on State Road A1A. Click on the image for larger view.

A compromise is in the works that may allow Oceanside Grill, the popular Flagler Beach restaurant, to use a residential lot it just bought as a parking lot, potentially ending what has been a contentious struggle with the city over seemingly contradictory regulations. But for the compromise to stick, the city commission will have to go along

The issue has commanded broad attention in the city as its outcome could have significant consequences, as a precedent, in the way the city balances commercial and residential rights. Depending on the outcome, the matter could redefine the city’s character where its commercial and residential boundaries meet, so a lot more than a mere parking lot is at stake.

It’s a story almost as old as Flagler Beach itself: a business sets up shop and does well. Then it butts up against city regulation that can sometimes look arbitrary, like parking requirements that seem to apply to some businesses but not others. The business looks for creative ways to resolve the snag, only to come up against new obstacles, like zoning restrictions.

That’s been the case with Oceanside Grill, the successful beachside restaurant near the south end of town. Oceanside was told its parking was inadequate. So the restaurant, co-owned by brothers John and Tony Lulgjuraj, in October paid $240,000 for a small, vacant lot behind the restaurant near the corner of State Road A1A and South 19th Street. But the lot is zoned residential. To use it as a parking lot, the brothers would have to rezone it under the tourist-commercial designation.

The city’s planning staff recommended against the change, calling it “spot zoning,” and saying it would easily be challenged in court, where the city would lose. That would nullify the brothers’ $240,000 investment and leave them still without adequate parking.

A compromise may also redefine how Flagler Beach accommodates its businesses–if the city commission goes along.

“It’s not me personally, it’s not this board, it’s the mandate by what we are based to make our decisions on,” Larry Torino, the city’s planning director, said, explaining his decision. “What we’re saying here is, our hands are tied, and so is the hands of the commission tied. We can’t go against the principles that were established by this community unless this community wants to go ahead and change them. But if you want to change it for your situation, I can tell you now, correct me if I’m wrong, Drew,” Torino said, referring to Drew Smith, the city’s attorney, “the city will find that illegal,–I’m sorry, the state will come back down on the city, because that’s illegal zoning, it’s illegal designation of your future land use map.”

The matter went before the city’s Planning and Architectural Review Board Tuesday evening, what was to be its first stop before city commission action. Monthly planning board meetings are usually slow, drab and unattended affairs. Not this time. City Hall’s chambers—unlike the planning board’s chairs–were packed and included three city commissioners, as the Oceanside Grill issue had mobilized the city’s attention and looked poise to become a major point of contention between the business community and city government.

Twenty-two people addressed the board, all but two siding with Oceanside. The supporters included the owners of Golden Lion and the Beachhouse Beanery, two local eateries. Several of the restaurant’s supporters leavened their support with caveats, especially opposition to letting parking lot traffic spill onto Central Avenue. They want it restricted to A1A.

But the nearly two hours of discussions on the matter showed the city to be cornered: its regulations are in place for a reason, and for reasons even the restaurant’s supporters acknowledge. No one wants to see residential lots turned into potential commercial zones. But at the same time, the support for the restaurant was overwhelming, and denying it access to the lot for parking, as the city requires, would make the city look unreasonably intransigent and its ordinances too dogmatic. As Jackie Mulligan, a Realtor who addressed the board, put it, the city’s zoning rules are out of step with its businesses’ needs. “It needs to be touched. The only people that can do it are sitting here, and the commission as well,” Mulligan said. “It could be a time for change. Let’s say that: let’s try something else.”

Roseanne Stocker, a member of the planning board, conceded that change is necessary, but with a caveat of her own. “We all say we love Flagler Beach, we don’t want it to change. Change is here,” Stocker said. “And I’m not talking we’re different from when I first moved here 125 years ago. We’re different in the last five years. Restaurants are all expanding, the decks, the new restaurants coming to town, more people coming to town. It’s all good, but we have to manage it. We can’t sit back and say, we’re Flagler Beach, we’re so special, we’re not like New Smyrna, we don’t need all these rules. We do. We have to manage change, because we can’t just pretend it’s not happening.”

Click On:

And this time, the board and the city’s chief planner, Larry Torino, found a compromise: the board cannot, and would likely not, vote in favor of changing the zoning of the lot. (Tuesday evening the seven-member board lacked a quorum: only four of its members showed up, and one of them, Rick Belhumeur, could not vote because he owns property near the restaurant, so he had to recuse himself.) But the board would favor recommending that the city’s ordinances be changed to enable a “special exception” in such instances. The special exception would be written specifically to allow a vacant lot in a residential area to be used for parking. That would prevent its use in any other way, and would keep it zoned residential, thus preventing it from being turned into something more garish down the line.

The planning board did not vote, since it couldn’t do so, but it recommended just that approach, which now goes before the city commission for review. If the commission agrees, the ordinance will be re-written then will have to go before the planning board again for a vote before it returns to the city commission for two separate votes. So go the wheels of city government. Only then will Oceanside Grill have its parking lot. But the Lulgjuraj brothers, who at first seemed reluctant to lose the potential commercial designation of their back lot—suggesting that they may have had ambitious designs for it in the future–were willing to go along.

John Lulgjuraj stressed at the end of the hearing that he had no greater designs than to use the lot for parking. “I don’t want to scare the public saying oh yeah, that’s what the boys want to do, they want to build this, or Ferris wheels or anything like that,” he said.

Earlier, Lulgjuraj had said: “We don’t ask for much. I’m not here every week asking for change. I’m asking to help secure our future here, and we want to be in business for the next 30, 60, even 100 years. I want my kids and my kids’ kids to grow up here.” But he also noted that it’s “extremely hard” to make a business work in Flagler Beach—and to make it so far as the five-year mark, which is still a year and a half away for Ocean Grill. “We just invested a lot into parking to help solve a problem. You asked us to. We did it. Now how can you help us secure our interest? That’s what we’re asking, we’re asking for your help, we’re asking for the community’s help. Whatever they need us to do, we’re doing.”

Carol Fisher, owner of the Beachhouse Beanery, had noted earlier that it was “really sadly ironic that this came to my attention three days after they gave away tons and tons of food. You know, hundreds of dollars, I’m sure they spent on that Thanksgiving day give-away, which was the first time anyone has done that here, and it was at their expense.” The Lulgjuraj brothers are praised one day, Fisher said, then saddled with contradictory demands from the city the next. “I’m not sure how all that makes any sense,” she said, “and I hope you guys figure out a way to make sense out of all of this, because this is a really, really sad statement for this city if they’re not allowed to have a parking lot there.”

“We’ve come up with a good compromise,” Board Chairman Don Deal said, “and we’ll do what we can to fast-track this for you.” He raised the possibility of even holding a special meeting for the matter.


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16 Responses for “For Oceanside Grill in Flagler Beach, a Parking Lot Becomes Epic Battleground Over City Rules”

  1. Seminole Pride says:

    Flagler Beach is certainly not my Parent’s Flagler Beach of the 60’s or 70’s. As more businesses comes in and our restaurants become more successful, you need to change zoning and create parking for these businesses to grow. Flagler Beach is not good zoning with many businesses and residential dwelling right next door to each other. Things are changing and like I said it’s not my Parents beachside town of years gone by.

  2. Outsider says:

    This problem could have been avoided if they simply made their purchase contingent on a zoning change or special exception. Instead, they bought a residential lot first then asked for permission later, claiming the city is responsible for their dilemma. Greed has pretty much ruined Flagler Beach, transforming an idyllic seaside town that was doing just fine, into a miniature Daytona Beach lined with bars, and the accompanying drunks and traffic. Gotta have that tax money so all the government officials can give themselves job security and raises, I guess. What a shame.

  3. Nikia says:

    Best wishes Tony and John. You are very brave to do business in Flagler Beach. This entrepreneur does not have the stomach to do it down here and fight continuously. We love your restaurant and we hope it works out in your favor just like our friend Gus over on Bulldog Dr…

  4. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On Jackie!

    This is going to sound naive and pie in the sky, but what if the planning commission, the city commission and maybe even the chamber of commerce actually HELPED small business owners through the myriad of regulations and red tape needed for them to come into compliance?!!! What if they suggested solutions, instead of expecting owners who are not legal experts to know how to understand and follow all the rules that even our leaders don’t fully comprehend?!!! It seems that our local government and business association leaders know full well how to point out the barriers and boundaries, but more “up front” assistance with creative solutions through the wilderness of “process” would greatly benefit our business community.

    For those who would prefer Flagler Beach to be a sleepy retirement community. . . with little to attract the next generations. . . isn’t the cemetery coming soon enough for you?

    Yes, a good balance between residential and wholesome/successful commercial interests is possible. Our current and future businesses just need a more helpful, cooperative, welcome from our community leaders.

    • Outsider says:

      I guess to some anybody with a vision of the ocean front as other than a strip mall of bars and cafés must be old. Sorry to disappoint, but a home just a block or two from the beach would be appealing to me, but not if I am forced to listen to a genre of music all night that I don’t like and risk getting run over walking home because some patron had too much to drink. I’ll say it again: Flagler Beach used to be refreshingly different from the typical Daytona style seedy beach strip. Change may come, but I still have the right to lament.

  5. m&m says:

    My favorite for breakfast. What’s the big deal to rezone?? You rezone to meet your wants and perks. Why keep trying to drive out businesses??

  6. Willy says:

    Good people, and a part of the community in a very positive way. I hope the city makes every effort to accommodate them.

  7. confidential says:

    Bias is the name of the game here…come and tell us all where are the same amount of spaces demanded like for the former Pier restaurant?
    Change is something that we all have to endure. The residential areas of FB are all along A1A and two blocks west….anyone that bought there even 40 years ago knew the liabilities of change being so close to the ocean…even the ocean storm after storm is eating away at their space. Can’t expect to buy property along that area and have it quiet, sweet and without traffic…is the water front for Heaven;s sake! Can’t have your cake and eat it too.
    Look what happened to us in Palm Coast in the last 23 years could be stopped 100% the change…NO!
    Oceanside Grill provides local jobs…of course to the younger people, not to the complainant retires.
    The owner bought that lot behind his business to offer parking other than his customers inconveniencing surrounding neighbors parking allover their homes street fronts! Give the business man a break! Sorry I missed the meeting to root for them.
    This remind me when over 15 years ago, the idiocy of the Monroe County Florida Keys good old boy commissioners opposing the installation of sewer lines from Miami main land to transfer all the keys sewage for proper process and discard other than do it into the still pristine Florida Keys waters from decaying leaking all private septic tanks some installed right on the water front properties under water. They didn’t care about pollution on the very marine life and waters, but just stopping others to enjoy the keys, wanted them all to themselves…hey we all live and have to run businesses to create jobs in America! Our mother land is not just supposed to be for the very few…
    By the way I yet have to research if those main sewers from Miami to the Keys ever materialized or not in spite local opposition…maybe still the sewer tank trucks are still making their rounds after those septic’s overflow into the waters.

  8. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Good job FlaglerLive. This article gives a very accurate account of what transpired at the PARB meeting Tuesday night. I would only add that if the Commission ultimately changed the ordinance to include the special exception for parking on a residential property, Oceanside would then have to apply for and then be approved for that special exception. That approval would most likely come with certain mandates such as access, fencing and landscaping. Only then could they begin converting it into a parking lot.

    • Linda Morgan says:

      I agree with you, Rick. As I was reading all of the comments and looking at the pictures, I was thinking landscaping all around and no access from Central? That way people will not overflow on our residential street.

  9. Chet Thomas says:

    I think this is a reasonable compromise: the Oceanside Grill gets the parking they need, and you don’t get spot zoning.

    Someone asked, “why not rezone?” The answer is simple: if you rezone every time someone asks you to, especially when you are talking about such a small strip of land, you might as well do away with any and all zoning regulations you have, as they will become useless. If you want to see what happens when you do this, look on google maps at a little town called Loganville, GA. They had no zoning laws to speak of, and when metro Atlanta spread their way, it became an unholy, ultra-commercialized mess. I would rather Flagler Beach NOT go down that road.

  10. The Real Bunnell Resident says:

    For a short time they had a perfectly good strip club as I remember that got forced out of business. What a shame!

  11. hopeful says:

    I hope Oceanside gets their parking lot. It’s a great place and the owners and staff are awesome!

  12. thanks for the update!!

  13. lop slop says:

    We need a strip joint here.

  14. Dave says:

    A strip club, what a joke, what for the drunks around Flagler Beach.

    If this backwards city can’t get their act together, maybe some of these restaurants need to packup and move north towards St Augustine and let Flagler BEach die a slow death

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