Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Planned move of free cafe for the homeless bedevils Tampa's V.M. Ybor neighborhood

TAMPA — If the waiter never hands you a check, is it still a restaurant?

For the Trinity Cafe and home­owners in Tampa's historic V.M. Ybor neighborhood, this is not an idle question.

For nearly 10 years, the nonprofit cafe has served more than 200 free lunches every weekday to the homeless, the down-and-out and the working poor from its space at the Salvation Army on N Florida Avenue.

Now, however, it proposes to move its operation to a building at N Nebraska and E 17th avenues.

The land is zoned commercial-general. Because Trinity's permit application is being reviewed the same way the city staff considers a restaurant, city rules do not require that it go before the City Council for approval or denial.

Alarmed, about 40 V.M. Ybor residents brought their concerns to the City Council on Thursday.

They said the cafe is no restaurant, but a soup kitchen, potentially with a line of hundreds out the door. They worry that it will bring vagrants who will hang around before and after lunch, litter, look for places to use the bathroom, vandalize their homes and worse.

"The property is immediately adjacent to single-family residences," V.M. Ybor Neighborhood Association president Kim Headland said.

"This relocation will have an impact on crime in our community, it will overburden (police) and it will negatively impact the quality of life," she said. "Most definitely, this will deter any positive redevelopment on the Nebraska corridor. It's simply not the same as a restaurant. The impact is just different."

Trinity paid $225,000 for the Nebraska Avenue property and has said it's working to raise another $350,000 to renovate the building that's there.

The charity looked for a property that had the right price, the right zoning and ready access to bus lines for its clients and volunteers.

"What we're trying to do is provide for the homeless," said Jeff Darrey, chairman of Trinity's board of directors. "We don't have control over our current circumstance where we're located, but we will in the new one."

In response, City Council members were sympathetic to residents but seemed at a loss at what to do.

Then someone looked at the city code's definition of a restaurant: "An establishment whose principal business is the preparation, serving and selling of food."

Trinity doesn't sell, so it couldn't be a restaurant, several suggested.

But city zoning administrator Catherine Coyle said officials look at Trinity's plans as being most similar to a restaurant, one of many uses allowed in a general commercial zoning district.

Other allowed uses include clinics (free and otherwise), hospitals, places of assembly, churches, rooming houses, and fraternity and sorority houses.

The city made a similar call years ago regarding the Faith Cafe on Kennedy Boulevard.

"We went with the historic interpretation," she said.

Not all council members bought it.

Harry Cohen is one of several council members who has volunteered as a server at the Trinity Cafe, and he's a big fan.

But, he said, "The city's definition says 'and selling of food.' It does not say 'or selling of food.' If it said 'or selling of food' it would be optional. But 'and' makes it compulsory."

Other council members wondered whether the overarching problem was that Tampa doesn't seem to have comprehensive strategies either to help the homeless or mitigate the impact of such a facility on a neighborhood.

In an attempt to address that, the council asked for police, code enforcement and other city departments to come in for a wide-ranging discussion on issues that residents raised.

That discussion is scheduled for March 1.

Planned move of free cafe for the homeless bedevils Tampa's V.M. Ybor neighborhood 02/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2012 12:01am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Rays manager Kevin Cash made a case for urgency before Thursday's game, in both actions and words, making significant changes to the structure of the lineup and sincere comments about time running short.

    Trevor Plouffe of the Rays reacts as he pops out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. [Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images]
  2. Spanish PM voices solidarity with Barcelona


    BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country is mourning in solidarity with the city of Barcelona and other cities in Europe that have been hit by deadly extremist attacks.

    An injured person is treated in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and injuring several people, police said. [Associated Press]
  3. Confederate statue: Why Bucs, Lightning, Rays took a stand


    They didn't want another Charlottesville.

    Marc Rodriguez, a member of the "Florida Fight for $15" organization, stands in protest along with other activists demanding the Confederate  monument be removed from the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Rep. Larry Ahern gets roughed up by Clearwater City Council

    State Roundup

    It seemed innocuous enough: an "end of session report" from state Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, to the Clearwater City Council.

    Then Ahern got taken to the woodshed.

    Rep. Larry Ahern is vying for a seat on the Pinellas commission.
  5. Hillsborough County erects wooden barrier to protect Confederate monument from vandalism

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County workers began constructing a wooden barrier around the base of the Confederate monument by the old county courthouse Thursday evening.

    A Hillsborough County construction crew erects a wooden barrier around the Confederate monument at the old county courthouse Thursday, out of concern about potential vandalism. [Courtesy of WTSP]