GULFPORT — The city is getting a new takeout barbecue restaurant.
While that may be good news for rib lovers, only time will tell what it means for smoke haters.
The City Council recently voted 3-2 to approve a site plan for Smokin' J's at 5145 Gulfport Blvd. S. The plan includes the addition of a mobile outdoor smoker, outdoor storage for the wood that cooks the food and the addition of outdoor seating — two picnic tables.
The vote came after two hours of discussion in the packed council chamber.
The point of contention was how much smoke would be disseminated into the neighborhood and what the city could do about it if it was excessive.
Restaurant owner John Riesebeck, 6741 10 Ave. S, St. Petersburg, said he would be willing to modify the smoker if it was deemed a nuisance.
Those modifications include extending smokestacks up to 20 feet, installing an exhaust fan and installing a triple filter application.
But determining it to be a nuisance could be a problem because there are no Occupational Safety and Health Administration or Environmental Protection Agency standards for smokers.
Police Chief Robert Vincent said a neighbor can file a complaint and the police, who are charged with code enforcement, could issue a citation. If the restaurant owner disagrees with the citation, it could end up in Pinellas County court.
"And who knows what would happen there," Vincent said.
Four neighbors of Smokin' J's previous location, in the lot of Ahearn's Chevron, 6763 Gulfport Blvd. S, South Pasadena, spoke against the smoker at the meeting.
Valerie Cardoso, 6785 W Flamingo Way S, said, "The problem is in the frequency, intensity and duration of the smoke.
"The smoke this smoker emits permeates my house. I made complaints many times, but there were never any citations because he moved it every time," Cardoso said.
Riesebeck had presented to the planning and zoning board copies of six citations he received at the former location. Each showed no violation existed.
Anyone can file a complaint, Riesebeck said, but a violation is determined by opacity, which is determined by sight by a county agent for the EPA.
Martha Josey, another West Flamingo Way resident, said, "I couldn't sit on the porch. I couldn't get away from the smoke.
"A person's business should not affect my health or property value," Josey said.
Several people spoke in favor of allowing the smoker, including Clam Bayou activist Al Davis, who said that if the restaurant is legally compliant, it should be approved.
"This is rooted in personal bias and not in law," Davis said.
In the end, it was that line of thinking that allowed the smoker to be approved.
"He has met all the site plan requirements. There are no smoker standards," said new council member David Hastings.
"The applicant hasn't proved he's a nuisance until he creates a nuisance. I don't know how we can deny it," he said.