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Largo commissioners vote not to renew contract of Bookmark Cafe owner

LARGO — Commissioner Mary Gray Black fought for a five-year contract renewal for the owner of the city library's Bookmark Cafe at a meeting Tuesday night, but came up short.

Commissioners voted 2-5 against the resolution.

Instead, a 4-3 majority voted to seek a new operator for the cafe, leaving Dalal Mansour, the current owner, until June to vacate the premises or secure a new contract.

The result is one the owner is not happy with — or expected.

Last week, commissioners said at a work session that their consensus was to negotiate a 1-year contract with Mansour.

"All I can do now is wait until my lease ends in June," Mansour said. "I don't think it's fair."

In September, Mansour failed to notify the city of her desire to renew her five-year contract for an additional five years.

However, the mayor and other commissioners have said the city should have given Mansour advance notice and may not have been the most friendly landlord.

"I think this is a gotcha. I think we wanted to put this out to bid, therefore we weren't a very courteous landlord," Mayor Patricia Gerard said March 2.

Commissioner Robert Murray, who voted against seeking a new operating agreement for the cafe, said he thought the fair thing to do was to renew the contract.

"I think she's entitled to having a five-year renewal," Murray said.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes voted to seek a new vendor because he said the city should see if anyone else would be willing to operate the cafe on better terms.

"We can get a better deal for the city of Largo, I'm all for it," Holmes said.

Also at the meeting, city commissioners voted 6-1 to overrule a planning board decision and approve the rezoning of two lots along Highland Avenue to allow a multistory medical office to be built on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood.

At a previous meeting, commissioners said the plan seemed attractive, and that the new development could benefit the neighborhood and replace aging and empty homes with a productive facility.

While some residents of the neighborhood around NE Seventh Avenue have spoken in favor of the proposed office complex, others were upset the majority of commissioners voted against the planning board's 3-0 vote to deny the rezoning.

"I feel like I'll be voting very differently next election," said Diana Norwich, a resident of the neighborhood.

Norwich said she feels the increased traffic could put her children in danger.

John Hopengarten, representing the property owner, local doctor Allen Finkelstein, said he plans on working with neighbors to ease their concerns.

Largo commissioners vote not to renew contract of Bookmark Cafe owner 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:26pm]
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